With summer vacation fast approaching, the Department of Health advises parents to be extra wary of bites and scratches coming from dogs or cats as children are expected to spend more time playing not only with their frolicsome pets but also with stray and possibly rabid animals.
Every summer, Dr. Eric Tayag reminds the public to not just worry about the five “Big S diseases” namely sore eyes, sun burn, sipon and ubo (flu and cough), skin rashes, pagsusuka at pagdudumi (vomiting and diarrhea) but also about the source of a dreaded virus: sakmal ng aso (dog bites).
Tayag explained during a press briefing that marked March as Rabies Awareness Month, that since school is about to end, children will have more chances to interact with their own or neighbors’ pets (which increases their risk of being bitten or scratched).
The only sure way
A number of experts say that the only sure way to find out if a dog—whether it’s a pet or stray—has rabies is to perform laboratory tests (usually on the dead animal’s severed head).
However, there are certain signs that may indicate that the animal has rabies infection like foaming at the mouth; weakness and loss of coordination that is followed later by paralysis; or sudden behavioral changes like when the animal suddenly lunges and snarls, ready to attack without provocation. Children and the rest of the household should be reminded of these warning traits.
According to the National Rabies Prevention and Control Program of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Industry, rabies remains a public health problem as it is responsible for the death of 200 to 300 Filipinos a year.
Last year, a total of 328 out of 2,016 individuals were tested positive for rabies.
Although this number has decreased by 145—there were 474 cases in 2011—this figure is still enough to rank the Philippines the sixth in the world with the most number of human rabies cases.
Of this number, the Global Alliance for Rabies Control found that 25 percent of bite victims don’t seek medical attention. More importantly, 60 percent of these individuals who will eventually die from rabies are children under the age of 15.
Their families often turn to traditional healers or method (rubbing garlic on the wound), which will not work against this fatal disease.
Rabies is the most deadly virus when it comes to mortality rate, which is almost 100 percent.
If no preventive measure is done, that person is expected to experience intense headaches, anxiety, hallucinations and paralysis. Later, that person may even salivate uncontrollably, be terrified by a glass of water or bite anyone or anything within its reach.
Following days of torturous suffering that individual would slip into a coma and die.
But while rabies is nearly 100 percent fatal—only a handful of people have survived rabies infection—it is however, 100-percent preventable.
The most cost-effective strategy for preventing rabies in the country is by eliminating it in dogs through animal vaccinations (like using Merial’s Rabisin) where 98 percent of cases are attributed to.
Wound cleansing (with strong soap for 10 minutes) as soon as possible after getting bitten or even scratched by a suspected animal could further help prevention.
However, when dealing with potential rabies cases, it is always best to get preexposure rabies immunization (like antirabies vaccine Verorab) as this simplifies management by decreasing the need for more shots of the rabies immune globulin—equine rabies immune globulin Favirab or human rabies immune globulin Berirab—which is required when a previously unvaccinated person is bitten or scratched by a suspected animal.
Getting the preexposure rabies immunization is also beneficial to families or individuals who live in areas where rabies infection is high, or places that are far from any clinic or hospital or where immunizing products might not be available.
In this regard, the DOH is working on improving the access and compliance to post-exposure prophylaxis of those who are exposed to rabies, including the establishment of more animal bite centers and encouraging the local government units to provide antirabies vaccines to their constituents as well as their pet animals.