Rabies the deadly silent Killer
Alarm bells all over the world are set when there are outbreaks like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), or Middle East Respiratory Corona Virus (MERs CoV), but one deadly disease that we tend to overlook is rabies.
The most recent figures suggest around 55,000 people die every year from rabies.
Around 40% of those who are bitten are under 15 years of age.
One of the world’s oldest diseases, rabies is the distressing result of exposure to a virus usually transmitted through the saliva of an infected dog or bat.
The virus affects the central nervous system and causes the brain to swell. If it is not treated before it reaches the nerves, it is incurable.
In 1885, Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux famously developed a vaccine which has saved millions of people from the dreaded illness.
This vaccine has been used to help eliminate the disease in many parts of the world, removing it from dogs and other species that can transmit the infection, including foxes.
But the costs of preventing it remain relatively high and this means that in poor parts of Asia, the disease persists.
The victims are often children, who perhaps approach infected dogs without fear or awareness.
As very young victims often aren’t able to tell their parents what happened to them, health agencies fear that the actual total of those who die from the disease is much higher than the official figures.
The head of the world animal health organisation (OIE) told BBC News that the invisible killer could be eliminated for one tenth of the cost of treating patients.
Speaking at the annual congress of the OIE in Paris, Dr Vallat lamented the fact that international investment in eliminating the disease in dogs wasn’t forthcoming.
“Even when we demonstrate that the cost of vaccinating dogs is 10% of the cost of treating people bitten by dogs in the world, we are not able to convince all donors of that message,” he told BBC News.
He contrasted the lack of investment in tackling rabies with the headlines that have greeted the recent discovery of Mers, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
“Rabies is mainly in a small number of countries, it is not visible. We have up to 70,000 children dying every year in terrible pain, and the media don’t take that, they take Mers with 200 very old people dying,” he said.
Another cause for concern is that some of the vaccines being used to prevent rabies in dogs and other animals are substandard and can actually make the situation worse.
In the Philippines the existence of street dogs (askals) pose as a great threat to innocent passersby. Records from the Department of Health (DOH) of the Philippines show that rabies kills 300 to 600 Filipinos every year.
Last year, 157 deaths due to rabies were recorded by the DOH National Epidemiology Center. Nine of these were reported in Metro Manila, according to the DOH.
The Calabarzon region accounted for most of the human rabies cases with 35, followed by Cagayan Valley with 22, Bicol with 21, Socksargen with 19 and Davao with 16.
To attack the rising cases of rabies bites the DOH, according to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, is deploying teams from the agency that would periodically conduct free vaccinations of dogs in certain areas.