The Department of Health states that around 300 to 600 Filipinos die from rabies per year. More than half of the victims are children between five to 14 years of age.
According to the World Health Organization, the Philippines ranks among the highest in the world in terms of rabies prevalence.
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by the rabies virus. A person gets rabies after being bitten by an infected animal, usually a dog or a cat. It is passed on to the victim via contact with the rabid animal’s saliva.
The incubation period for rabies is usually three weeks but may reach up to five years. Symptoms include fever, headache, anxiety, confusion, difficulty swallowing and paralysis. Once a person develops the symptoms of rabies, the disease will be very hard to treat. Most cases of rabies are fatal.
Fortunately, there are vaccines available that effectively prevent rabies after an animal bite. Hence, you must see your doctor immediately after getting bitten, in order to receive a series of rabies shots that will prevent you from getting rabies. Animal bite centers are located in many hospitals.
Your doctor would need the following information:
1. What animal bit you?
2. Was it a pet or a stray animal?
3. If it was someone’s pet, was the pet vaccinated against rabies?
4. Was the animal acting unusually, which means it could be rabid, or did you provoke the animal?
5. Can the animal be observed for 10 days to determine if it will turn rabid?
It is best to capture the animal and observe it for 10 days. If the animal does not turn rabid in 10 days, then it doesn’t have rabies and you don’t need to continue with the anti-rabies shots. However, if the animal has escaped, then we can presume that the animal has rabies and treat accordingly.
Vaccination is especially urgent in cases of bites near the head and neck area. These are the more sensitive areas because the rabies virus can reach and infect the victim’s brain in a shorter span of time.
Rabies shots usually consist of six injections given over a period of 28 days. The first injection is best given on the day of the bite itself.
Tips for preventing rabies
1. Pet owners should vaccinate their pets regularly. For dog and cat owners, ask your veterinarian about the vaccinations schedule.
2. Don’t let pets come in contact with other stray animals. Your pet could get bitten by a rabid animal and develop rabies.
3. Don’t approach and touch other people’s pets. They may seem friendly, but could suddenly bite strangers.
4. Don’t let your guard dog wander around. Keep your doors and gate closed at all times to prevent bystanders getting bitten by your pet.
5. Carry a stick or an umbrella when you go walking or jogging in the neighborhood. Wear long pants instead of shorts.
6. Don’t leave your child alone with someone’s pet. Don’t bother pets when they are eating, sleeping or nursing their babies. Keep pets on a leash.
7. Report stray animals to local authorities.
8. Stay away from bats and other wild animals. Don’t let bats enter your home since they are known to carry the rabies virus.
9. If you frequently work with animals, you may need to get rabies shots in advance. Ask your doctor about it.
What the Anti-Rabies Law says
The Anti-Rabies Act of 2007 (R.A. 9482) provides the guidelines for the prevention and control of rabies in the Philippines. Several agencies and persons are tasked to do their respective jobs in a collective effort to control rabies under a National Rabies Prevention and Control Program.
The main goals of this Act are to give mass vaccination to dogs, establish a registry of vaccinated dogs and ensure proper disposition of unregistered and stray dogs.
The Department of Agriculture is tasked to ensure an adequate supply of animal anti-rabies vaccine, to improve existing animal rabies laboratory testing, and to give free dog vaccinations in priority areas. The DA is also required to maintain a rabies surveillance system.
As the DA’s responsibility pertains to the dog, that of the Department of Health is to protect the human. Hence, the DOH is directed to ensure an adequate supply of human anti-rabies vaccine in animal bite centers nationwide.
The DOH is also obliged to provide vaccination to the victim at minimum costs, and to keep surveillance data on the number of animal bite victims and rabies cases.
Both agencies are urged to carry out a health information campaign on rabies and responsible pet ownership. The Department of Education can assist in the campaign by including rabies prevention tips in the school curriculum.
The local government units play a huge role in rabies control. The LGUs are tasked to make sure that all dogs are immunized and registered. The LGUs should likewise allocate the necessary funds for dog vaccines and human vaccines. They are also responsible for field control and removal of stray dogs, and ensuring that dogs are within the confines of the owner’s house.
According to the law, if the impounded dogs are not claimed in three days, then they may be placed for adoption, preferably with the help of an animal welfare NGO.
Responsibility of pet owners
The main responsibility of pet owners is to vaccinate and register their dogs. Should their dog bite a victim, the owner is required to shoulder all the medical expenses, including the cost of several vaccinations.
There are penalties for pet owners who violate the law. These sanctions include a P2,000 fine for owners who refuse to immunize or register their dogs, and a P25,000 fine for owners who refuse to pay for the medical expense of a victim bitten by their dog.
Let’s help keep our community safe. All of us can play an important role in preventing dog bites and rabies.