HAGAR the Horrible and Snert. Phantom and Devil. Tin-Tin the boy detective and Snowy. Pepe and Pilar and Bantay. A gadabout Saint Roque and his nameless cur that has left a trail of wondrous tales in the more bucolic parts of Nueva Ecija for healing the sick or wounded with a few licks or so. From storybooks to oral folklore, the bonds that link dog and man endure.
And there was the late movie idol Fernando Poe, Sr. He was strong as an ox, statuesque with a physique made immortal in the bronze Oblation statue that stands as colossus in every campus of the University of the Philippines nationwide. A rabies-infected puppy of his licked his hand that had an open wound. Such a licking sent him to an early grave.
Indeed, rabies kills.
While more deaths may have been induced by attempts at howling out "My Way" in cheap videoke joints throughout the country, rabies-caused deaths hereabouts focused global attention on the Philippines. There was an increase in rabies fatalities in the ‘90s—337 died in 1996, 321 in 1997 and 362 in 1998.
Of 115,223 people bitten by dogs in 2005, 271 turned up dead. By 2006, the number of fatalities was pruned down by a few dozens— and such has caused RP’s No. 4 global rank in rabies incidence to slip two rungs lower to No. 6.
We haven’t licked rabies incidence. Not yet.
Eager beaver town councils have poured barrels of spittle cranking out ordinances against dogs and threats of fines on dog-owners, even unleashing ragtag dog catching teams in their territories to pounce on stray curs. But not much effort has been plied to educate people on how to reduce the risk of contracting rabies from dogs.
The Fernando Poe, Sr. puppy-inflicted death can be a telling point that the Department of Health reiterates: "Many people still believe that rabies is only transmitted by bites from stray dogs. In fact, 90% (of infections) are caused by pet dogs and about 2% by pet cats."
That means dog owners themselves are the more likely victims of their own pets—unless these are vaccinated against rabies.
Too, anyone cutting up a dead rabid dog can infect themselves with the disease if they touch their eyes or lips while they have traces of the dog’s fluids on their hands, the DOH explains.
The incubation period for rabies can range from five to 10 years, although 95% of those infected develop the disease within one year. Once a patient starts to show symptoms he or she usually dies within 10 days—there is no treatment. Patients brought to the country’s only rabies ward in the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila are generally lashed down—or sedated-- until they breathe their last. Most victims are young men or boys bitten after taunting dogs.
There are some eight million dogs throughout the country—and about 10,000 are believed to be infected with rabies each year. DOH has 400,000 doses of anti-rabies vaccine that won’t likely be enough to immunize the nation’s canine population.
A five-shot anti-rabies regimen for dog-bite victims can hurt—each shot can cost a few thousand pesos. However, Family Vaccine and Specialty Clinics (FVSC), an outfit which imports, distributes and administers vaccines through a chain of 40 clinics set up in 15 provinces nationwide have seized on the opportunity to make anti-rabies vaccines less of a pinch on patients’ pockets. Each shot costs P350 in the FVSC chain of clinics.
The clinics—called RNMD Specialty Clinics—have been established in Aklan, Batangas, Benguet, Bulacan, Capiz, Cavite, Ilocus Sur, Iloilo, Laguna, Metro Manila, Nueva Ecija, Palawan, Pampanga and Rizal.
These specialty clinics, manned by a team of doctors and nurses trained by the DOH Research Institute of Tropical Medicine will initially focus on treatment of rabies.