The often fatal danger of rabies goes beyond the bite wound.
BY KAY LUIZ
In a country where stray dogs can be a problem, rabies is a real concern for Filipino parents. The disease, while incurable, is definitely easily avoidable.
Unlike other childhood dangers, though, rabies infection in the Philippines is still shrouded in misconceptions and fear. There was the belief that a rabid dog would die just because it bit a human. If a dog does not show aggressive behavior, it means that it is not infected with the virus. There are also old wives’ tales that say the wound should be cleaned with vinegar and it would be alright.
Nina Tomen, program officer of the Rabies Prevention and Organized Intervention (Rabies POI) of Santungan ng Kababaihan at Kabataan sa Pampanga, a group that works with the government on rabies eradication and information dissemination, said local governments and communities need to educate the public about the dangers of rabies.
Death By Rabies
According to the local health department, rabies is a fatal disease caused by the rabies virus, which is transmitted through a bite of an infected animal with virus-laden saliva. The virus can also be transmitted if the saliva comes into contact with an open wound or scratches in the skin.
The disease targets the nervous system and its early symptoms include headache, fever, and weakness. It then progresses to muscle spasms, paralysis, delirium and convulsions. Patients with rabies usually become extremely thirsty. They also have the strong urge to bite other people.
Rabies infection is fatal and death is often due to respiratory paralysis.
Individuals at high risk include veterinarians, wild life conservation and animal quarantine personnel, and laboratory and field personnel working with rabies. In the Philippines, where stray dogs are often a problem, children are most vulnerable to rabies-infected dogs.
The infection is incurable, true, thus it is more imperative for families to be aware of what and what not to do when a child is bitten by a stray dog or a cat.
Dealing with Rabid Bites
For the patient, post-exposure treatment includes vaccination against the virus. It consists of active immunization, which helps the body develop anti-rabies antibodies for one to three years. The second vaccination is called passive immunization, which gives the patient immediate protection against the virus. The second immunization should be administered within a week after the first immunization. The patient should also be given anti-tetanus shots and antibiotics if deemed necessary by the physician.
It is also advisable to consult a veterinarian to see if the animal is indeed infected with the virus. The health department advises parents to keep the errant dog under observation for two weeks starting from the day it bit a person to see if it indeed has the virus. According to the Department of Health (DoH), a dog or cat, which is rabid at the time of the bite, usually dies within 14 days. If the animal is alive within the observation period, it means that it is not rabid and has not transmitted the virus to the person.
Looking For Signs
The following are the symptoms of a rabies infection in dogs:
The hyperactive or furious type:
- - change from friendly disposition into wild vicious behavior
- - whining—as if in pain
- - foaming of the mouth
- - if on a leash, bites objects within its reach, if caged, bites even the cage
- - difficulty in eating and drinking
- - restlessness
- - runs aimlessly
- - snaps at imaginary objects
The paralytic or dumb type:
- - becomes lethargic and depressed or hides in dark, quiet places
- - sluggish or sleepy
- - refuses to eat
- - appears to be staring at a distant
- - object (far-away look)
- - the lower jaw drops, the tongue hangs, and the dog salivates continuously
- - difficulty in swallowing and drinking
- - difficulty in breathing
Aside from getting the right information on how to treat rabies infections, the health department and other groups also call for responsible pet ownership.
Dr. Raffy Deray, program manager of the DoH National Rabies Prevention and Control Program, said in previous interviews that the government’s three-pronged approach—pet immunization, responsible pet ownership education, and animal bite victim immunization—could lead the country to zero-rabies incidence by 2020.