KUCHING, The goal of making Southeast Asia free from human rabies can be achieved through a total understanding of the disease, how it can be prevented and responsible pet ownership among communities, say experts.

Boehringer Ingelheim regional technical manager for companion animals for ASEAN, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, Dr Tan Do Yew said timely vaccination of pets can significantly mitigate the risk of rabies transmission.

“Dogs are the primary rabies reservoir worldwide and it is especially an important vector to watch out for in endemic areas. Every individual needs to be aware of the risks of rabies and the importance of preventive measures.

“A common problem facing rabies control efforts is a misguided focus on vaccinating people before dogs, which are the source of 99 per cent of human cases. For Southeast Asia to achieve better rabies control outcomes, this must change. An effective way to control rabies is to vaccinate the animals first. They are the main source of infection,” he told Bernama.

In addition, Dr Tan said the prevalence of rabies may affect the community in terms of health and well-being if the disease is not given proper attention.

For the record, Boehringer Ingelheim, in partnership with the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), has vaccinated thousands of dogs across Malaysia, Indonesia, Kenya, Philippines. South Africa, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Regarding dog culling as a solution to mitigate rabies transmission, GARC director of programs, Dr Terence Scott opined that indiscriminate culling curtails the effectiveness of vaccination programs by removing vaccinated dogs from the population.

"There is evidence that mass, indiscriminate killing of dogs is not effective in controlling the transmission of rabies. In fact, it can worsen the issue because it may be culling animals that have been vaccinated, therefore reducing the herd immunity in the population," he said.

Scott said the under-reporting of rabies cases and the insufficient amount of data, particularly in areas where access to medical reporting systems is weak, can make tracking and responding to rabies outbreaks difficult.

Sharing Dr Tan’s view is the head of the Department for Veterinary Pathology and Microbiology at Universiti Putra Malaysia, Associate Professor Dr Farina Mustaffa Kamal who urged the public to report any dog bite incidences and seek proper medical treatment at the nearest medical facility.

“Some people neglect to seek proper medical attention when they are bitten by a dog, and this is due to various reasons, such as finances, access to medical treatment, and a lack of knowledge about the risks and harmful effects of dog bites.

“By seeking treatment, not only will it ensure the well-being of the victim, but the case report can be used to coordinate various programmes such as vaccination programmes, education on dog-bite prevention, and an awareness campaign to eliminate rabies in that specific locality,” she said.

Meanwhile, head of animal health of Boehringer Ingelheim Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, Dr Kam Kok Yen said it is timely for various societal components, government agencies, and pet owners to join forces to end the rabies epidemic in Southeast Asia.

“As dog bites cause almost all human cases, vaccinating dogs is the most effective way to protect humans. This, together with community education about rabies and dog monitoring, will help to progress towards rabies elimination and realising the global 'Zero by 30' goal, which is to reduce the rate of dog-mediated human rabies death to zero by 2030," he said.

Last Nov 4, Boehringer Ingelheim launched a white paper on moving towards a rabies-free Southeast Asia' STOP Rabies to call attention to the elimination of rabies outbreaks in Southeast Asia at the Federation of Asian Veterinary Association (FAVA) Congress 2023 in Kuching, Sarawak.

The rabies symposium at the FAVA Congress 2023, hosted by Boehringer Ingelheim, is to provide a platform for industry experts to discuss various issues, initiatives, and key recommendations towards realising the 'Zero by 30’ global strategic goal to end dog-mediated human rabies deaths by 2030.

Source: BERNAMA News Agency