Columnists Features

Rabies and dog bite prevention

AMY KINGDOM, Lusaka
THE Veterinary Association of Zambia is currently running a campaign to raise awareness around rabies, as well as dog bite prevention. This campaign is centred around World Rabies Day, which is held on September 28 every year.
The theme for this year’s campaign is “Educate! Vaccinate! Eliminate!”, and veterinary professionals and paraprofessionals around the country are volunteering their time and resources to focus on this theme in their local communities.
There are 38 veterinary centres signed up to participate in the campaign, and these centres are visiting schools, hosting local radio interviews and conducting vaccination and health clinics for pets. The Veterinary Association of Zambia has provided posters, brochures, videos and presentations to be used by these outlying clinics.
So, as we focus on this theme, we can perhaps discuss some important aspects of rabies as well as how we can all work to prevent dog bites in our homes and communities.
SO, WHAT IS RABIES?
Rabies is a viral disease which infects warm-blooded animals (mammals). In Zambia, the disease is mainly found in dogs (as well as certain wild animals), and it is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected animal.
When an animal or person is bitten, the virus travels from the site of the bite to the brain, where it causes neurological signs. These signs include a change in behaviour, excessive salivation, and sometimes, a “fear of water”.
CAN RABIES BE TREATED? CAN IT BE PREVENTED?
When an animal or human has rabies, there is no treatment for the disease, and they will always die within two weeks of showing the symptoms. For this reason, prevention remains the mainstay of trying to control this disease.
The disease can be very cheaply prevented in animals, by annual vaccination. Puppies should be vaccinated at three months, then again before the age of nine months, and then annually thereafter.
If a human is bitten by a rabid dog, they can be vaccinated in order to prevent them from contracting the disease. A course of vaccine consists of five injections and the cost is usually over K1,000 per person, making it a cost-prohibitive prevention method.
SO, WHY ARE DOG BITES DANGEROUS? AND SHOULD WE ONLY WORRY ABOUT BIG BITES?
Dog bites are dangerous for three reasons; firstly, they can injure or harm the victim; secondly, they can cause infection; and thirdly, they can transmit diseases such as rabies.
It is very important to be aware that even very small bites can still transmit rabies, if the dog is infected. For this reason, every person who is bitten should report to a medical doctor, and should get the dog checked by a veterinary surgeon to determine whether it is likely to have rabies or not.
HOW CAN WE PREVENT DOG BITES?
Dog bites can be prevented by encouraging responsible dog ownership, and by teaching adults and children how to behave around dogs.
Responsible dog owners should care for their pets, vaccinate them and ensure that they receive regular veterinary care. In addition, dog populations should be controlled by neutering or spaying dogs to prevent unwanted breeding, and to reduce the urge for the dogs to roam.
In addition, all dogs should be socialised and trained while they are puppies so that they know how to behave around people. A dog should always be obedient to the people in the family, and it should be taught appropriate behaviour.
Children can also be specifically protected by teaching them, and applying the following principles:
• Teach children to be cautious around strange dogs. They should not approach or pet them.
• Teach children never to turn their back and run away from a dog – the dogs instinct will be chase the person.
• Teach children never to disturb a dog which is sleeping, eating, playing with a toy or nursing puppies.
• Teach children never to tease or chase dogs.
• And lastly, children and infants must never be left along with dogs.
The author is public relations officer of the Veterinary Association of Zambia.

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