Sabah increases efforts to prevent rabies following outbreak at neighbouring Sarawak district

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah government is stepping up efforts to keep rabies out of the state after an outbreak was detected at a bordering Sarawak district.

Lawas was declared rabies-infected district on June 10.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan said they had prepared for rabies outbreaks since 2017, including carrying out simulation exercises, public awareness campaigns and vaccination of dogs, cats and other possible carriers at all state entry points, but would step this up.

The free vaccine initiative will be expanded to neighbouring districts such as Tenom and Beaufort, added Kitingan, who is State Agriculture and Fisheries Minister.

The goal is to boost the animals' immunity as rabies is preventable through vaccinations, he added.

"An animal population management effort aimed at achieving 'Zero Stray' status will be implemented, with a focus on border districts.

"Furthermore, sampling for viral detection in stray animals will be expanded to ensure that preventive action may be taken effectively.

"Awareness campaigns will be intensified, particularly among residents of border towns and villages, to ensure the people are aware of the danger of the virus and play an active role in preventing it from entering the State," he said in a statement on Wednesday (June 23).

Sarawak Disaster Management Committee had earlier announced that the virus was discovered in stray dogs in Bazaar Lawas, located only about 11km from the Merapok-Sindumin Immigration-Quarantine-Security (IQS) checkpoint.

Kitingan reminded that Sabah first made early preparation against rabies in July 2017 after the first announcement of rabies infection in Serian, Sarawak.

"Since then, Sabah has banned the importation of cats and dogs, which is still in effect.

"By 2020, 80% of pets at the borders have been vaccinated, far exceeding the targeted 70%," he said, adding that the Veterinary Services Department (DVS) provides vaccines free of charge to all dog and cat owners in Sipitang.

On the African Swine Fever (ASF) issue, Kitingan said Keningau has become the latest district to be declared an ASF-outbreak area.

The virus was discovered in backyard pigs in Kampung Bandukan Lama, where 24 pigs were reported dead due to ASF.

Kitingan said preliminary investigations suggest that the virus may have been brought into the village by wild bearded pigs.

"Prior to the death of the backyard pigs, the DVS received a report of a dead wild bearded pig in a forest near the village.

"Keningau has about 1,000 pigs in total, and all of them are at risk of infection due to insufficient biosecurity.

"Therefore, the DVS is currently conducting awareness campaigns in the district to advise the community not to move their pigs or pork products without permission from the department," he said.

Although the virus has been found in 12 districts at present, two districts – Pitas and Kota Marudu – are now classified as 'yellow index' zones after no new ASF cases were reported in the past 60 days.

A yellow index means that pig repopulation is permitted as long as the farm improves its biosecurity and the pigs are sourced from ASF-free farms.

However, the movement of pigs and pork products still requires authorisation from the DVS.

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