Fatal ignorance: Survey shows rabies is misunderstood

national March 11, 2018 01:00


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Amid a major outbreak of rabies nationwide, including three human deaths so far this year, a survey has revealed major misunderstandings among the public about the disease.

Public Health Ministry spokesman Dr Opas Karnkawinpong revealed that up to 60 per cent of the 11,369 people who participated in the recent survey wrongly believed that rabies could be cured. Additionally, 34 per cent did not know that death is guaranteed if a person is bitten by an infected animal – unless they quickly receive a full dose of rabies vaccine.

Opas said that due to a lack of accurate knowledge about the virus, there had already been deaths from rabies this year in Surin, Songkhla, and Trang. In each case, the deceased person had been bitten by an infected dog but did not receive the rabies vaccine until it was too late.

He urged people who had been bitten by any animal to see a doctor as soon as possible and get a rabies vaccination. Even a bite from a household pet presented a risk of infection with rabies.

“If a person is bitten or scratched by an animal, they should clean the wound first with clean water and apply Betadine antiseptic in order to reduce the virus exposure, and then go to the doctor to get a rabies vaccination,” he said.

“It is important to get a full dose of the vaccine in time, because once the rabies virus gets through the nervous system and symptoms are presented, it is already too late for a cure and the patient will die.”

Disease Control Department director-general Dr Suwanchai Wattanayingcharoenchai said that the rabies outbreak in the country was very alarming. In the past two months, the infection rate has been 1.5 times higher than during the same period last year.

According to the rabies monitoring network of the Livestock Development Department, there were 359 confirmed cases of rabies reported in 37 provinces, mostly in North Eastern and Southern Region, since the beginning of this year until yesterday.

Roi Et was the province with the highest number of rabies cases, at 70, followed by Surin (39 cases), Yasothon (22), Songkhla (18), and Maha Sarakham (17).

Meanwhile, there were five confirmed rabies cases in Bangkok and another five cases in the nearby provinces of Samut Prakan and Nonthaburi.

Suwanchai warned that the rabies outbreak was a result of many factors including the collapse of general rabies immunisation due to a lower rate of vaccination during recent years. Other factors included people allowing their pets to roam outside freely, and a lack of awareness about the disease among the public.

“The Disease Control Department suggests that people help the authorities control the rabies outbreak by controlling the pet population, getting rabies vaccinations for their pets every year, and, if they are bitten, finding a doctor and receiving a rabies vaccination,” he said.

“The department has ordered local Disease Control offices to inform people about the danger of rabies and how to prevent the disease, and also find those who have been exposed to the rabies virus to get a full dose of vaccine.”