RABIES ALERT: PENANG IS NOW A RABIES INFECTED AREA
Imagine images of zombies in horror movies, in particular the movie World War Z. Once you get bitten, there is NO TURNING BACK. Your brain will be taken over by an incurable virus, and you drool, become irritable and agitated, and in the end you die.
I want you to think of that because rabies is probably the closest disease to a Zombie infection in the real world you'll ever get. Only difference is, Rabies spreads through animal bites (especially dogs and bats) and scratches, not through humans. Therefore, a scenario where we have to drop a nuclear bomb to kill a huge human population is thankfully out of the picture.
However, the killing of infected animals like dogs are sometimes inevitable. Together with mass vaccination, we CAN still keep the outbreak under control. Just like when outbreaks of bird flu and swine flu happen, the entire animal species are often the innocent victims of this episode.
Why so drastic you say?
To put it LIGHTLY, Rabies is MUCH MORE DEADLY than even AIDS. In Aids, if the patient is given proper treatment, he can live to a ripe old age of 70 years old. If you get rabies, and develop symptoms, you are GONERS (means mati lah) for sure in 10-14 days (Yes, no known medical treatment after symptoms develop). And that's not the worst part. You die a sickening, horrible death where you are not able to drink ANYTHING, even your own saliva. Below is a very good video showing you what happens to a rabid patient. (put down your food before watching)
So what is Rabies anyway?
To put it simply, Rabies is a VIRAL disease, that can infect ANY MAMMAL. However, More than 99% of rabies cases in countries where dogs commonly have the disease are caused by dog bites. It affects and spreads through our nerves and brains, causing symptoms like agitation and irritation, salivating excessively (air liur keep coming out), becoming unable to drink ANYTHING (hydrophobia), and later causing coma and death. This is why in the Chinese language, it is called the MAD DOG disease. The pictures illustrate how the name came about.
The virus that causes rabies is called lyssaviruses. This virus is unique in the sense that it causes the victim to DROOL (salivate) excessively. This happens because 80% of victims develop HYDROPHOBIA, or the fear of water. Victims cannot swallow almost ANYTHING because they will have violent spasms whenever they try to swallow anything. This is actually the clever tactic of the virus, as the concentration of the virus will be VERY high if the victim does not swallow its saliva.
The virus also has the ability to alter the behaviour and the brain functions of the victim. It makes dogs and other infected animals A LOT more likely to bite. The "aggression or excitation" phase makes these animals bite even when not provoked. They have been observed to even bite on inanimate objects. Think about it, A virus that makes you go GARRR GARRRRR GARRRR...sounds like a zombie horror movie doesn't it?
Now you know it's all scary and all, but, it's treatable right?
Yes and no.
Human victims that start to develop symptoms almost ALWAYS end up in death. The lucky (less than 1 percent!) survivors were treated using the Milwaukee protocol, a protocol that intentionally puts you in a coma, for around a week. The theory is that by shutting down the brain before the virus can affect it, the patient has a fighting chance of developing a strong immune system capable of fighting the virus. This protocol to has quite a low percentage of survival, but it's the best thing we have right now. For those who did survive, certain things like balance, speech and motor functions may be affected for life.
For those who seek treatment BEFORE the symptoms start, there is something called a "post exposure prophylaxis" treatment regime. It includes washing the wound with soap and water for 5 minutes, followed by disinfectants like iodine and alcohol to reduce the viruses as much as possible. Then one dose of human rabies immunoglobulin (HRIG) and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period is given to the victims. One dose of HRIG alone costs several thousand US dollars (more than RM10K), so treatment is undoubtedly expensive.
But the real problem of rabies infection is that symptoms can appear as late as a month later after being bitten/infected. The symptoms are also very non-specific, like fever, body aches, tiredness etc. By the time it gets so bad you get admitted, it's almost a certain death sentence.
Culling of an entire species is no doubt cruel and inhumane. Animal lovers all over the world call out in outrage whenever a culling is in order. But why do government agencies do it? Are they really those heartless bastards people say they are?
Apart from the scary reasons mentioned above (which is reason enough), it is just not plausible for the government to take in and quarantine every stray dog until the episode dies down. The reason being that symptoms of infected dogs only develop around 10 days after the initial bite/wound.
If you think that putting the strays into shelters may be a more humane way of dealing with this, think again. Most shelters now are already overcrowded as it is, and if ONE, just ONE dog with rabies gets put into that shelter, you'll be faced with rabies wildfire.
How about vaccinating all stray dogs? Umm...we need to do it on very TIMELY fashion, as we have no method of knowing which dogs have already been infected. Vaccines in dogs take 7 days to take effect, and we have 40,000 dogs in Penang. Fortunately, there is now a turn of events, where our local NGO's have not only raised RM400K for vaccination purposes, but they have also managed to get the World Veterinary Services to talk to our government on providing aid in Mass vaccinations. However, we need to bear in mind that this vaccination is an annual thing, and we need to carry out nurturing and spaying at the same time to prevent this number from ever growing in the future. Also, our Veterinary Department is still "considering" the proposal by the NGOs. As they are the experts in this field, I would still recommend we take their advice, not matter which decision they make.
So pet owners, do keep an eye on your own dogs, prevent them from mingling with strays for risk of infection, and more importantly, do get them registered! Any dog without a collar will be caught and put to sleep under the "Rabies-Infected Area (Penang) Order 2015".
Lastly, we should put emphasis on education and education:-
Educate the public on what to do when they encounter a "suspect" of rabies infection.
-If you see a dog that is drooling excessively, call the veterinary department immediately. It might not be aggressive as the infection may be in its "stupor" or near paralysis phase.
-If you come in contact with any wild animal and get bitten by it, wash the wound with soap and water for 5 minutes, followed by disinfectants like iodine and alcohol to reduce the viruses as much as possible. If possible, get the animal and yourself to the hospital. If the animal is caught, it is going to be easier for doctors to tell whether or not you have been bitten by a rabid animal.
-IF your child or someone with decreased mental functions (elderly) is found with a bat in their room, and you are unsure if they have been bitten, assume that they are! Follow the step above. Most likely they will be treated as if they were bitten.
Educate our public on the importance of nurturing and spaying. Get your pets Vaccinated.
-If our public knew the impact of Nurturing and Spaying, then all of this unwanted culling would have been avoided in the 1st place.
-All pets above 3 months of age must be vaccinated.
Educate the public on the reason behind the hard decision of culling* (Refer UPDATE BELOW).
-Watch the video at the beginning of our article. Imagine if one of your loved one was infected, knowing fully that they will have to go through that agonising death.
-Don't make it harder for the government officials and infectious control team who is only working to keep you safe. (I still suggest that we take the advice from our experts at the Veterinary department, for I find it hard to believe that they are trying to take 40 thousand lives, just for the sake of it)
-And if you're really against this, join or form a charity group to raise funds so that our government can use it to vaccinate dogs, instead of killing them (we have a group of strong NGO body here. Click the HERE to go to their facebook page).
EDIT: while all this is happening, we can also urge our government to apply for fund allocations from WHO to start a vaccination program. The funds may be a huge sum, for there is an estimated 40,000 dogs in Penang. I would urge animal rights groups to keep working on fund allocations, and perhaps halfway through this ordeal, we may not need to kill anymore innocent dogs. Time is of the essence, and until funds are sufficient, drastic measures will have to continue
UPDATE: We have received news that the World Veterinary Service (WVS) is keen to help out in the vaccination of 40 thousand stray dogs. So far we cannot confirm how true this is, but if it is, then the whole culling episode can be averted. We'll post updates on Monday if the rumors prove to be true.
UPDATE 2: Our veterinary department have started talks with the WVS on mass vaccination, But they are still "considering" the proposal. Our federal government has just made a purchase on 50,000 dog vaccines on 21/9/15. Stock expected to arrive in a week or 2. There is much hope now to avert killing ALL the dogs, and we will keep all of you posted.
Sorry for the long article. Share this around if someone you know still doesn't understand the gravity of the situation.