Licking rabies

There are dog people and there are cat persons. Then some can’t live without having both as pets. As they are always trying hard to please their masters, dogs have earned a well-deserved reputation as man’s best friend.

Cats, on the other hand, are mostly aloof that they give off the vibe that people exist to serve them; that there’s a reversal of roles on domesticated felines being the master of “their people.”

A 2018 global estimate put the pet dog population at 471 million and cats at 373 million, both standing at the center of a multi-billion dollars pet support industry cornered by big feeds and veterinary pharma companies.

For governments around the world, pets also impact negatively on public health resources on account of the need to stem the spread of rabies which causes approximately 59,000 deaths each year worldwide, according to United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

The US CDC noted that rabid dogs remain the cause of over 90 percent of human exposures to rabies and 99 percent of human rabies deaths across the globe.

“Because vaccines to prevent human rabies have been available for more than 100 years, most deaths from rabies occur in countries with inadequate public health resources and limited access to preventive treatment,” the CDC said. “These countries also have few diagnostic facilities and almost no rabies surveillance.”

“While effective, the cost of animal vaccination programs and programs to eliminate stray dogs often prohibits their full implementation in much of the developing world. In even the most prosperous countries, the cost of an effective dog rabies control program is a drain on public health resources,” it added.

The CDC said in the United States alone, annual rabies-related expenditures reach over $300 million, mostly spent on dog vaccinations, and for a good reason. According to scientists, rabies can be successfully controlled and human deaths can be prevented if 70 percent of dogs are vaccinated.

Pet vaccinations are also at the center of government efforts in the Philippines to stop the spread of rabies because of rising cases of oftentimes fatal transmission to humans through dog and cat bites.

According to the Department of Health, 284 human deaths due to rabies had been recorded from 1 January to 1 October this year — way higher than the 70 cases last year, with nearly a third traced to bites by domesticated yet unvaccinated dogs.

Broken down, of the total cases, 86 percent were from dog bites and nine percent were from cats, with the remaining six percent coming from other animals. While animal vaccinations can minimize the spread of rabies, the DoH has warned that the lack of medical intervention for those bitten by animals has almost always proven fatal.

A total of 204, representing 72 percent of human deaths from the viral disease this year, did not get post-exposure prophylaxis at hospitals or animal bite centers, DoH Epidemiology Bureau director Dr. Althea De Guzman pointed out.

De Guzman said lives could have been saved had the animal bite victims been given anti-rabies shots and immunoglobulin that kill the virus — and fast. She warned Filipinos not to be complacent when bitten especially by unvaccinated animals.

“There are cases wherein the symptoms only come out months later and once you become symptomatic that’s almost 100 percent case fatality,” she said.

Still, the DoH maintained that the most effective anti-rabies measure is having pets vaccinated regularly, first when the animal is three months old and every year thereafter.

The department urges the public to avail of free anti-rabies vaccination offered by local government units and free prophylaxis at government-funded animal bite centers for those people bitten by animals.

In vaccinating pets, those in the private sector like the big feeds and pet nutritional support companies, as well as the big vet pharma, should give back to the sector from where they are raking their moolah from. After all, it’s in their best interest to put the rabies scourge on a leash to protect their cash cow, pardon the mixed metaphors.

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