Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Rabies Cases Surge in Vietnam, Death Toll Up to 29

Vietnam is seeing a surge in rabies cases, with human fatalities up 160 percent.

Since the beginning of the year, 29 people across 16 provinces have died after contracting the rabies virus. This is a huge jump from 2023 when there were only 11 cases within the first three months.

Experts believe the number will continue to rise due to the number of unvaccinated animals as well as the country’s dog meat trade.

dog meat trade
The prominent dog meat trade in Vietnam is worsening the outlook for the rabies surge

A spokesperson for the World Health Organization said there will likely be a time lag due to the incubation period for the virus, which can range from two months to a year, meaning people who came into contact with the virus in 2023, may start developing symptoms this year.

The most recent death is one example. The victim, who died on March 27, had been bitten on their finger by a dog in October 2023. The bite bled a little and the individual washed it with plain water and garlic but did not seek medical treatment. They eventually died five days after their symptoms first appeared.

About the Rabies Virus

rabies symptoms
Rabies disease is typically fatal once symptoms develop

Rabies is a viral disease that is primarily transmitted to humans via dog scratches or bites. The virus targets and attacks the central nervous system and is almost always fatal without treatment.

There are two types of rabies: ‘furious rabies’, which causes cardiorespiratory arrest, and ‘paralytic rabies’, which paralyzes the individual’s muscles. Both forms are deadly, with the former making up 80 percent of cases.

With prompt vaccination before and after exposure, however, the disease is completely preventable. Monoclonal and immunoglobulin therapy may also be effective in severe cases.

In Vietnam, however, rabies vaccinations are rare, especially in high-risk, remote areas. Not only are the vaccines expensive but individuals must also travel far for the shots.

In 2023, 58 percent of dogs and cats were vaccinated for the rabies vaccine in Vietnam – this is much lower than the 70 percent necessary for ‘herd immunity’. In some remote areas, vaccination rates have dropped as low as 10 percent.

So far, only 19 cities across the country have implemented vaccination drives, which are the most cost-effective method of preventing rabies in people.

vietnam dog trade
Millions of dogs and cats and stolen, trafficked, and slaughtered for the dog meat trade every year

Activists are also warning about the dog meat trade, which is contributing to the surge in rabies cases. According to Humane Society International, more than five million dogs are stolen, caught, and slaughtered every year in Vietnam.

To make matters worse, many of these dogs are unvaccinated and rabies-positive. According to one study, more than 16 percent of dogs in Hanoi tested positive for the virus.

In response to the rabies surge, the government has asked localities to put together task forces to expand vaccine coverage. However, the process is slow due to limited supplies and funding.

Brooke Carter
Brooke Carter
Freelance writer who loves dogs and anything related to Japanese culture.
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