Recorded rabies cases ‘only the tip of the iceberg’
FAR more people in Myanmar are infected with rabies than the number officially recorded, according to medical experts speaking at an event on October 3 to mark World Rabies Day.
Dr Myo Khine from Mandalay General Hospital said that the official figures only record people who present at hospital with the disease. He believes that a lack of knowledge about rabies is why many cases go unreported.
“Myanmar is regarded as a highrisk rabies country. From 2003 to 2011, around 20 people were recorded as suffering from rabies each year. Do not think that these are the only people who contracted the disease. It is only the tip of the iceberg,” Dr Myo Khine said.
He said such patients often go to hospital without any idea they had contracted rabies.
“If people do not know they could be suffering from rabies, a deadly disease, they might not come to the hospital. Sufferers who die without coming to hospital far exceed the numbers of the official lists,” he said.
According to U Kyaw Naing Oo, director of the Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department under the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Urban Development, every 15 minutes a person somewhere in the world dies from rabies. Myanmar’s low figures are not due to a low prevalence of the disease but rather the low amount of reporting, he added.
If left untreated, rabies is always fatal to the sufferer. Though vaccines and emergency treatments are available, many people in Myanmar are unable to access the necessary medication.
The disease is most commonly transmitted by the bite of an infected dog and travels at a rate of 1 to 2 centimetres a day from the bite to the infected person’s brain.
“According to studies we have conducted, stray dogs are most often the carriers of the disease. I do not advocate killing suspect dogs but they should be tied up and controlled,” U Kyaw Naing Oo said.
He said there is a need to begin programs to prevent stray dogs from breeding, though they are difficult to implement. He called on the public to assist the government in controlling the country’s dog population and suggested that removing garbage piles from the street might assist in decreasing canine populations, as it has be shown to do in other countries.
According to a 2013 estimate, there are more than 3 million dogs in Myanmar – a number which is thought to be increasing by 20 percent each year.
U Kyaw Naing Oo cited budgetary constraints and conflicting public opinion as two major impediments to government action in reducing the number of dogs in the country.
“We cannot kill stray dogs. If we do, people who do not want to kill stray dogs denounce it, and if we do not kill stray dogs, people who want to kill stray dogs call for us to do it,” he said.
“If we inject contraception into the female dogs, one by one, to control the dog population, we will never finish the process,” U Kyaw Naing Oo said. “There are many [unanswered] questions: How many dogs can be injected within a year – 20,000 or 100,000? How many people are needed to do it? How long will it take? How much medicine will be needed?”
An animal lover cares for street dogs in Pyin Oo Lwin.