The bad news is the Philippines Department of Agriculture (DOA) says that rabies is responsible for the deaths of 200 to 300 Filipinos per year, making it one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the country.

Image/Howard the Duck
Image/Howard the Duck

The good news is the DOA has recently added 10 new zones in the country to the growing list of declared “rabies-free” areas, bring the total to 35.

In a ceremony in Quezon City last week, the newly-declared rabies-free zones announced were the municipalities of Tingloy in Batangas; Agutaya and Balabac in Palawan; as well as the municipalities of Basilisa, Cagdianao, Dinagat, Libjo, Loreto, San Jose and Tubajon in the island province of Dinagat.

Agriculture Assistant Secretary Davinio Catbagan said that DA and the DOH were actively cooperating to achieve a rabies-free Philippines by 2020.

“The robust cooperation between the DA and the DOH, along with the strong support from local government units has made eliminating rabies in our country highly achievable,” he said.

In 2013, 98 percent of animal rabies cases in the Philippines occurred in dogs, with 1.8 percent in cats, and 0.2 percent in goat. There are no reported rabies cases in wild animals.

Rabies is an acute viral infection that is transmitted to humans or other mammals usually through the saliva from a bite of an infected animal. It is also rarely contracted through breaks in the skin or contact with mucous membranes. It has been suggested that airborne transmission is possible in caves where there are heavy concentrations of bats.

According to the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, all mammals are susceptible to rabies. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, dogs, coyotes and cats are the likely suspects. Other animals like otters and ferrets are also high risk. Mammals like rabbits, squirrels, rodents and opossums are rarely infected.

Rabies infected animals can appear very aggressive, attacking for no reason. Some may act very tame. They may look like they are foaming at the mouth or drooling because they cannot swallow their saliva. Sometimes the animal may stagger (this can also be seen in distemper). Not long after this point they will die. Most animals can transmit rabies days before showing symptoms.

Initially, like in many diseases, the symptoms of rabies are non-specific; fever, headache and malaise. This may last several days. At the site of the bite, there may be some pain and discomfort. Symptomsthen progress to more severe: confusion, delirium, abnormal behavior and hallucinations. If it gets this far, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.

Although worldwide it is estimated that there are more than 69,000 deaths due to rabies annually.

Human rabies is prevented by administration of rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch

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