Rabies can strike you anywhere
By Ruwanthi Herat Gunaratne
Eighty three people died of rabies last year. Shocking
statistics indeed, since this disease is preventable.
by a dog or cat: What next?
"Wash the wound with soap and water," advises
Dr. Omala Wimalaratne, "and rush the victim to the nearest
government hospital." The doctor will then assess the
condition and vaccinate as necessary.
There are two different courses of the vaccine. One, the intra-dermal,
which involves five injections over 90 days and the other,
the intra-muscular, which involves four or five injections
over 30 days.
In serious cases, the immunoglobin injections are administered
to the wound in addition to the course of the vaccine. The
immunoglobin injections are administered to every place where
there is a serious bite.
"If there are ten wounds, it means ten injections,"
Dr. Wimalaratne said.
In cases where the dog has been given all the necessary vaccinations,
the full course may not be necessary. This means the dog was
first vaccinated at the age of six weeks, then at three months
and for two consecutive years afterwards. If this is not the
case, the course has to be administered.
"It is important to remember that even puppies can carry
the virus, and puppies are actually those under the age of
It is always advisable to tie up the dog that bites and observe
it for fourteen days. I
f the dog dies, the head should be sent to the MRI for further
This can help with the assessment of the animal and the nature
of the bite.
However, not all people bitten by rabid animals develop rabies.
The development of the disease depends upon several factors
such as place of the bite, severity of exposure, species of
animal involved, genetic factors and virulence of the virus.
sAs it is the nervous system that comes under attack, any
bites closer to the face and head are particularly dangerous.
Rabies is an
incurable disease, but prevention is possible. Sadly, awareness
is almost nil.
The Health Ministry
together with the Department of Animal Production and Health, various
non-governmental organisations, local authorities, Police and the
Medical Research Institute (MRI) has formed the National Rabies
Elimination Committee, a task force dedicated to eliminating this
killer disease from the country.
as there remains garbage on the roads, there will be stray dogs.
As long as there are stray dogs, there remains rabies," says
Dr. Omala Wimalaratne, a virologist and vaccinologist attached to
the Department of Rabies and Vaccines of the MRI.
stray dogs is not enough. One-third of rabid dogs are actually domestic
It is not only
canines that carry the disease. They account for only 70 percent
of the virus carriers. Cats, mongooses, cows and bandicoots also
carry the virus.
Health Ministry has taken an active interest in the prevention of
rabies. But the battle cannot be fought by the ministry alone. Local
authorities and medical professionals need to play an active role
in creating public awareness. Little known for example is that there
exists rabies legislation in the country, giving the Police the
right to eliminate dogs carrying the virus. "This is why the
Police play such a vital role in the process," Dr. Wimalaratne
As public health
is at stake, local authorities play an important part in the elimination
process. At the moment, rabies testing is conducted only at the
carriers of the virus are brought to the MRI. As this too is a problem,
the National Rabies Elimination Committee hopes to conduct testing
on a provincial level with the cooperation of local councils.
also play an active role. Abandoned puppies are found homes. Sterilization
clinics are held. Vaccines are given free at the proper time and
thereby the threat to the public is lessened.
participation is vital," stresses Dr. Wimalaratne, who recently
delivered the Pulimood Oration on Rabies Prevention and Control
in Sri Lanka.
The MRI also
holds a Rabies Post Exposure Clinic every day at its premises.
are an accidental host," adds Dr. Wimalaratne. "They are
also the dead-end host." The main objective of this committee
is to bring the rabid dog population down to zero.