GEORGE TOWN: A rabies outbreak has hit Perlis, Kedah and Penang, three years after the country was declared free from the disease.
To contain the disease, the authorities have been or will be culling stray dogs in the three states.
The order however did not go down well with several animal welfare organisations here.
Those infected must be treated quickly or they will develop fever, muscle pain and headache, which will lead to brain swelling, seizures, paralysis, coma and eventually death.
Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek (pic) said some 200 personnel from the Veterinary Services Department throughout the country had been deployed to the three states, adding that the department would be assisted by the Health Ministry and respective local governments in each affected area.
“The department will be issuing statements and keeping the public updated on the situation.
“We are wary of the situation and taking all necessary preventive steps even though no humans have tested positive for rabies as yet,” he told reporters after handing over a cheque for RM102,500 in death benefit to the family of drowned fisherman Low Tze Kian in Matang, Perak.
Department deputy director-general Datuk Dr Quaza Nizamuddin Hassan Nizam said the zoonotic virus was first detected in Perlis on Aug 19, with 22 bite victims there until yesterday.
“We have culled 256 stray dogs in the state. We have also conducted census on 875 dogs and taken samples from 65 of them, out of which eight tested positive for rabies,” he said.
He also revealed that five people had been bitten by stray dogs and were being treated in Kedah since Sept 13, adding that 476 stray dogs had been culled there.
“Of the samples taken from 65 dogs in Kedah, 17 were positive,” Dr Quaza Nizamuddin said.
He said there have been two bite victims in Penang - a council worker who was bitten during a dog nabbing operation and a boy from a fishing village in Balik Pulau.
Penang Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin said the first case was a 44-year-old man from Pokok Sena in north Seberang Prai on Sept 8 while the second case was an 11-year-old boy from Taman Nelayan, Kuala Sungai Pinang in Balik Pulau who was bitten on Monday. Both were hospitalised and have since been discharged.
Dr Afif believes the disease was transmitted from Perlis.
He said the World Organisation for Animal Health declared Malaysia rabies-free in 2012 after the last case detected was in 1999.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng yesterday declared Penang as a rabies infected area and said all stray dogs in the state would be caught and put to sleep.
“Under the directive, pet dogs are also not allowed to be taken out of the state except with a written permit issued by the department’s Penang director. All dogs which are three months old and above need to be vaccinated,” he told a press conference in Komtar.
He said dog owners should also ensure that their pets are confined within an enclosed space, securely tied and led around by chain to prevent them from escaping and be infected.
Penang Animal Welfare Society founder Barbara Janssen said she disapproved of mass dog killing.
“There are many dogs on the street which are cared by people but not housed in their compound. Most of them had been spayed or neutered to reduce stray population. To kill them outright now is a waste of public money and unfair,” she said, adding that the society would find out from their counterparts in the United Kingdom and India of alternative methods of rabies control.
Save Our Strays Penang spokesperson April Sham said two cases of rabies in the state was no cause for hysteria, adding that it was extremely uncommon for people to get bitten by rabid animals.
“If bitten, people can seek medical treatment. Rabies is not a justification for slaughtering healthy animals. Killing is not the only solution,” she said.
About half of the some 50,000 dogs in Penang are strays, Dr Afif Bahardin said.
He said it was almost im possible to identify rabies-infected dogs and warned that any dogs found outside their compounds would also be caught and put down even if they were licensed.
“We have to contain the disease before it becomes endemic in Penang and all stray dogs would be put down. It is the only known method to prevent the spread of the disease which has a high mortality rate,” he added.
Veterinarian Dr K. Pavabakaran said he had not seen a single case of rabies in his 40 years of practice.
He said the authorities would have the best knowledge of how to contain the disease although he cautioned on a carte blanche campaign to kill all stray dogs.
Penang SPCA administrator Lily Leng said the state had directed the association not to take in any strays and for the public to walk their dogs with a leash as a precaution.
Rabies outbreak: Perlis, Kedah, Penang report infections
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