Rabies, the almost universally fatal infection if not appropriately treated in a timely fashion, was responsible for 226 deaths in the Philippines in 2015, according to the Department of Health.

Close-up of a dog's face during late-stage "dumb" paralytic rabies/CDC
Close-up of a dog’s face during late-stage “dumb” paralytic rabies/CDC

This has prompted health officials to announce yesterday that free rabies vaccines will be available at 480 Animal Bite Treatment Centers nationwide.

“None of these deaths should have occurred since we have the necessary interventions to prevent rabies such as promotion of responsible pet ownership, early consultation when bitten by animals and timely administration of vaccines.” Health Secretary Janette P. Loreto-Garin said.

The deaths were preventable, Garin said, and advised the public, “If you are bitten by pets, do not ignore it. Consult the nearest Animal Bite Treatment Center to receive the proper treatment.”

Rabies is an infectious viral disease that is almost always fatal following the onset of clinical signs. In more than 99% of human cases, the rabies virus is transmitted by domestic dogs. Rabies affects domestic and wild animals, and is spread to people through bites or scratches, usually via saliva.

Rabies is present on all continents with the exception of Antarctica, but more than 95% of human deaths occur in Asia and Africa.

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