16 views 6 mins 0 Comment

Stray dog menace: Govt orders inquiry on deaths and vaccine efficacy

- August 31, 2022

Thiruvananthapuram, August 31 (BPNS)

Amid concerns over the efficacy of the anti-rabies vaccine being administered in the state, the government has ordered an inquiry to examine the quality of the vaccine being given in hospitals. For this, an expert panel will be formed by the health department.

It was on the other day that chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced such an inquiry during the adjournment motion discussion regarding the burgeoning population of stray dogs and the frightening increase in human rabies deaths in the state.

Earlier, a probe to examine all rabies deaths was ordered by health minister Veena George. The minister then said that the deaths to be examined by an expert committee are those reported from January 1st, 2022.

However, a clarification on whether the inquiries on quality of medicine and deaths will be carried out together or separately is yet to come from the health department.

As per a statement given by the health minister in the Assembly, the state this year itself reported 20 rabies deaths. Of this, only four persons had been properly vaccinated and one person had been partially vaccinated.  However, 15 persons had not taken the vaccine after the dog bite as per the rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

At the same time, a steep increase in dog and cat bite cases in the state has persuaded Health, Local Self Government, and Animal Husbandry Departments to come out with a joint action plan to decrease the bite cases and prevent subsequent rabies death.

“At present, there are some concerns related to rabies. Thus, a scientific inquiry is the need of the hour. The expert committee tasked with the same will examine each death and will come out with a report within two weeks,” said Veena.

The repeated rabies deaths even after taking the anti-rabies vaccination, the latest being the death of a 53-year-old woman in Kozhikode on August 21 who was bitten by a dog on July 21 and had taken the anti-rabies vaccine as per schedule, had sparked concerns.

While questions like the efficacy of the vaccine, its storage, and the way it is administered are being raised, some also doubt whether the rabies virus had undergone mutation.

In 2021, two Italian doctors had come out with a research paper that warns of the possibility of rabies lyssavirus (that causes rabies) getting mutation.

According to the study, mutated rabies virus may be seen as an imaginable menace for mankind and this would be theoretically possible by either natural or artificial virus engineering, producing viral strains characterized by facilitated human-to-human transmission, faster incubation, enhanced neurotoxicity, and predisposition towards developing highly aggressive behaviors.

The other day, considering the seriousness of the issue, the state’s three ministers – Veena George (health), MV Govindan (LSG), and J Chinchu Rani (animal husbandry) – sit together and took stock of the situation.

The outcome of this meeting was to come out with a joint action plan to decrease the bite cases and prevent subsequent rabies death. A decision was also taken to ramp up the animal birth control (ABC) programme and anti-rabies vaccination programme for stray dogs and domesticated dogs.

“The meeting was a result of the spike in bite cases as in some district bite cases almost tripled. The reporting of rabies deaths has also influenced it. To address the menace, LSG, health, and animal husbandry departments will work together. They will come out with a joint action plan,” said an official.

In addition to ramping up ABC and vaccination programmes, the departments have decided to make license and vaccine certificates mandatory for domesticated dogs. Also, an awareness campaign among people regarding rabies and the need to take vaccination will be highlighted.

“The problem is that it was Kudumbashree that was entrusted to implement the ABC programme in the state. But following a high court directive that decision was put on hold. The government didn’t come out with an alternate plan. Now they are planning to conduct stray dog adoption camps across the state with the help of the Animal Husbandry Department,” said an official.

Rabies is a deadly virus spread to people from the saliva of infected animals. The rabies virus is usually transmitted through a bite.

Once a person begins showing signs and symptoms of rabies, the disease nearly always causes death. For this reason, anyone who may have a risk of contracting rabies should receive rabies vaccinations for protection.