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Govt finds it hard to treat rabies patients

July 15, 2013

PESHAWAR, July 14: The government is finding it difficult to provide treatment to the people bitten by dogs as the number of patients has risen due to hot season and presence of stray animals in a large number, according to health experts.

“We are receiving 15 to 20 cases of suspected rabid dog bite every day only at Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar. All of them were given full therapy of four doses. Mortality rate is 100 per cent if the victims are left untreated,” senior doctors told Dawn. According to them, besides fresh patients, they also provided treatment to 80 patients, who came for follow-up doses of their treatment regimes. The cost of treatment for one patient was Rs443, which meant that about Rs80,000 were spent on treatment of dog bitten people per day only at one hospital, the doctors said.

Due to cost of vaccines and injection, the victims are given first dose and then advised to purchase the remaining three injections from the market but it also involved the risk that the patients may get wrong injection.

About five manufacturers marketed anti-virus injection used to protect animal bites as not only dogs but cat, jackal and donkey could also cause rabies, they said.

“We apply different protocols treatment and procedures from case to case. Some get only contact with rabid animals while some get wounds and scratches,” the health officials said. Lately, the health department had started using intra dermal injection which was scientifically proven effective in treatment of rabies, they said.

The doctors said that every person bitten by animal should get vaccinated because the virus could stay in the body and cause infection after a period of 19 years.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded about 7,000 dog bite cases every year owing to uncheck movement of stray animals, especially dogs, and majority of the victims were women and children.

Officials said that patients had to wash their wounds with detergents and visit the nearest hospital to get vaccination as well as treatment. The vaccination provided protection for one year that would be followed by a booster next year, they said.

The doctors said that given the highest death rate, the better option was to eliminate stray dogs and ask owners for vaccination of their pets to protect unwary people from bites.

Officials in the health department said that number of dogs grew in harvesting season (from July to August) during which they received more people with dog bites. Most of the cases were recorded from Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, Swat and Buner etc.

Officials said number of dogs had grown due to lack of coordination between health department and municipal corporations to safeguard people against bites. The municipal corporation, which was required to eliminate dogs, was unequipped to do so, they said.

About a decade ago, the municipal corporation used to feed strychnine, a very potent poison, to dogs and later buried them. “We cannot use gunshots to kill dogs because of the people. The only option is to use poison,” officials said.

The health officials said that they suggested to municipal corporations to sue a gun to kill stray dogs only in night if strychnine was not available.