MO,12/2/2018, SERIAN: Sarawak must intensify its war against the current rabies outbreak, as the fatality rate for the virus among infected humans is almost 100 per cent. Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said 99.9 per cent of Sarawakians who developed the disease after being bitten by rabid dogs have died, as there is no treatment for the virus. Only preventive measures can help defeat the disease.
He added that based on international statistics, only 20 people around the world are known to have survived after being diagnosed with rabies. Subramaniam was speaking to reporters after visiting an 8-year-old rabies victim at Kampung Bayur here. The critically-ill boy returned home recently after spending five months being treated at the Sarawak General Hospital.
“Although this is a rare case (that the boy managed to survive), he can no longer breathe on his own due to damage caused by the virus. He depends on a life support machine,” he said. Subramaniam expressed his appreciation for the commitment shown by the state government, several agencies and non-governmental organisations which endeavoured to bring the bed-ridden boy home.
“I understand how much the parents want to be close to their child, and I believe the boy wanted to come home too. So, he’s now home and under the care of his loved ones,” he added. Meanwhile, Subramaniam urged the public to support and cooperate with the state government and other related agencies in their efforts to fight the ongoing rabies outbreak.
“We cannot allow the people of Sarawak to continue to be exposed to the risk (of being bitten by rabid animals). We need to continue this war. “There is no better option than getting all dogs (in the state) vaccinated, including pets and strays. With seven people (testing positive for rabies) and six of them dying, (this must be done), and some of them were bitten by their pet dogs,” Subramaniam said.
He called for the entire community to come together to tackle the issue. Although it is estimated that more than 50 per cent of the dog population in rabies-affected areas carry the virus, the state government is working on the assumption that all dogs are virus carriers. Subramaniam said some dogs are carrying the virus without showing any symptoms. Thus, the need for a mass vaccination campaign.
In addition, the Health Department will increase awareness through educational campaigns and seminars. “(Some) people think the awareness level is not high enough, (which is contributing) to the problem. We are willing and ready to do more (to address this issue),” Subramaniam added. Meanwhile, Local Government and Housing Minister Prof Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian, who was also present, called on hawkers not to feed stray animals.
“When there’s food, there are more strays (and) more puppies. It has become a challenge for us,” he said. Some pet lovers have criticised the government’s war against rabies, seeing it as an attack against dogs. Sim refuted this. “We really need people to be with us and cooperate with us. If the Veterinary Services Department thinks that there’s a need to put certain dogs to sleep, they have to do it,” he said.
Four children, aged between 4 and 7, were among those who succumbed to the virus since the outbreak was detected in June last year. The fifth rabies victim, a 52-year-old man from Kampung Remun, Serian, died on Jul 23 last year. Two weeks ago, a 59-year-old man, from Jalan Batu Kawa-Matang, became the outbreak’s sixth fatality.