In search of ways to eradicate rabies

Rabies is a serious threat to livestock production. Experts under the aegis of the Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA) are exploring ways to eradicate the disease, DANIEL ESSIET reports

Rabies is a global threat to human health and   livestock. A global study on canine rabies estimates that it causes 59,000 human deaths, over 3.7 million disability-adjusted life years and $8.6 billion in economic losses yearly.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said livestock are at risk of exposure and greater efforts were needed to eradicate the disease.

In Nigeria, rabies endemic has been  reported mainly in dogs and occasionally in livestocks from all the geo-ecological zones of the country. Approximately 55,000 people, according to studies, die yearly from  the disease. Also rabid dogs account for about 94 per cent of confirmed human infection.

Experts said detection of rabies virus antigen in puppies between five and 10 weeks and in apparently healthy dogs shedding the virus in their saliva have been reported in some parts of the country.

Speaking during the World Rabies Day, the  immediate Chairman, Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association, Lagos State, Dr. Alao Mobolaji  said in 2017, two human rabies deaths  were  reported at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH).

He  said: “The first was  a 49-year-old man, who resided in Igbogbo area of Ikorodu was bitten by his three-month-old dog, which he bought six weeks before the incident. He died a few hours after he was admitted at the hospital.

The second patient was a 33-year-old man from Ajara in Badagry, who came to the hospital presenting with a history of restlessness, agitation, hydrophobia and aerophobia six months after a dog bite. He was given a tetanus shot and not rabies  after the dog bite. The dogs in both cases were reportedly acting erratic when the incidences occurred.”

Mobolaji said occurrence of the disease in puppies was of grave public health consequences.

He said people love puppies, especially children, who are fond of carrying and playing with them, are also faced with the risk of exposure to rabies.

He said review of the dog anti-rabies vaccination is recommended to ensure effective immunisation and for the overall safety of the vulnerable members of the public.

On record of dogs and other domestic animals kept in Lagos State and capacity to monitor the pets, he said: “‘Unfortunately there is no coordinating action against rabies in Nigeria and that for us is heart breaking. The only one being taken is the one we are doing by enlightening the public. We have lost adults too to dog bites. There was a time two bankers died. They were attacked by dogs and they were brought to us they showed signs of being bitten by dogs and they died eventually. Of all I know we are the only one enlightening the public and we need to sensitise the public. With estimation we have about two to three million dogs in Lagos State alone. And you know they are the closest to man. They do a lot of things for us. They protect, they can lead the blind, and they are used to check for narcotics. They serve different purposes but mostly they are used to safeguard the environment and a lot of people use them for economic gains. What we actually want the public to know is that they are the main carriers of the virus and every dog needs to be properly vaccinated against rabies annually. That is the number one step to preventing dogs against rabies. Every dog owner has the responsibility of vaccinating the dog, talking about taking the dog to the veterinary clinic and gets it duly vaccinated against rabies. The bats, monkeys, raccoons are natural reservoirs of the virus. Often times, we see bats taking nocturnal flights within the cities. These are times some of them even drop into the compound and, unfortunately, our dogs may pick them as easy preys and eat them. That is how most of them get infected. One of the things we discovered in our studies of the Meiran incident was that there was regular nocturnal flights of bats in that area and often times they drop into the compounds and that is where the dogs in that community get infected. It is important to know that when people see bats especially children; they must not play with them. You would see children throwing them up and down, playing with them. It is dangerous because these bats are natural reservoirs and if the dogs get in touch with them they can get infected. When you see such bats, best thing is to destroy them by burning them and keep them away from children and dogs.”

According to him, dog-mediated rabies disproportionately affects rural and economically disadvantaged communities. By preventing rabies at its source, he said the government can help protect those who lack access to effective rabies treatment.

Mobolaji said the proportion of dogs vaccinated was far below the number that is necessary to control the disease across the country.

He said the association was determined to raise awareness about the devastating impact of rabies and the importance of prevention.

He pointed out that there have been confirmed cases of rabies in animals mostly in dogs.

According to vaccination of pets remains critically important not only to protect animals, but also to safeguard public health.

On the efforts of the association to carry out mass vaccination of pets against rabies? He said: “We do it annually. The last one we did was at Ikorodu then we had one at Ajegunle. We chose centres close to where there is the latest incident of dog bite. The Ikorodu one was where the five year old Odukomaiya boy was bitten by a dog. The boy eventually died. Same Ikorodu was where a young boy was attacked brutally by a dog and eventually died. We also cried out that there is the need for animal laws for those that keep animals; domestic animals and wild animals alike. There are people that keep snakes, dogs, cats, monkeys, crocodiles in their houses now and there is a need for us to have laws so that people don’t fall victims. A lot of people are actually falling victims. There was a case of a guy just going on his own in Lekki and was attacked by seven dogs brutally. Also a four year old at Igando was attacked by two Alsatian dogs. They bit his scalp open and he had to be flown to India for surgery and he is living with that scar for the rest of his life. We have made calls to have a law to control the keeping of these animals at home.

“The rabies vaccines are available in every vet clinic and so affordable. It is about N3, 000 and with that you get your pet immunised for a whole year. I don’t know anything more economical than that.

“We have been liaising with the Lagos State Government on law reforms. At the national level there are different laws. The issue of Animal Disease Control Act it is at the top level of discussion at the National Assembly. It is all encompassing. It will regulate a lot of things. There are diseases animals moving within states carry from states to states especially Avian Influenza that is transmittable from birds to humans. It has been there for some years at the national level. But for Lagos State we have been discussing on the need to have a law to control the keeping of domestic animals. We have had advocacy in different places.”

The Chairman, Lagos Chapter, Nigerian Veterinary Association, Dr. Balogun Stephen warned: “As long as we keep dogs in our environment we are actually playing with rabies. If the dog is not duly vaccinated the pet owner is not safe. He is playing with death because if the dog has rabies and if there is any situation that warrants the dog biting someone and once the clinical signs start manifesting in the victim, death is inevitable if appropriate preventive care is not taken. Certainly the person should just be waiting for death.”

On what should be done, he outlined: “There should be no time wasting. Once there is a dog bite, take necessary action. Every bite should be taken seriously. This is how we advise people. My advice for dog owners is that they vaccinate their dogs against rabies, they should patronise vet doctors not those that call themselves dog doctors. There is nothing like dog doctors. These people go around. They don’t use the right vaccines. They go around and start injecting dogs and the dogs still come down with rabies infections. Dogs are of the most public health importance because they maintain very close relationship with man. They have access to the bush and to our homes.

So if per chance any infected animal in the bush bites them they get infected. These carriers are what we call reservoirs. They include bats, wolves etc. because some people use dogs for hunting. Once they are bitten by these wild animals the dog comes home with the virus and it may take a long time for the dog to show signs. It may take up to 21 days and the owners may not know it is incubating the virus. Then at a time it gets to a furious state and the dog begin to bite, the owner may not think it has rabies. Another advice is that pet owners should not disregard any dog bite. Every bite is important. Once there is a bite, wash the surface of the spot with soap to disinfect the place, call your family doctor or health provider then call your vet doctor to examine the dog. If the dog is aggressive after ten days or if the aggression is progressing, it may be an infected dog. This happens also in the rural areas. In the city you can hear that someone has given an injection, how effective is the injection? First of all, like I mentioned earlier, wash the area thoroughly to disinfect it, wash vigorously with soap. There would be need for antibiotics as well so you call your doctor. A total of 44 dogs were vaccinated at the Iyaiye  Ojokoro Local Government Area.”


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