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Following the recent outbreak of rabies in Trashigang, residents have become vigilant especially when they come across stray dogs.

Surveillance stepped up in Trashigang after rabies outbreak

Awareness programs are held to allay excessive fear among the residents 

Following the recent outbreak of rabies in Trashigang, residents have become vigilant especially when they come across stray dogs.

During a multi-stakeholders workshop on active surveillance and monitoring for rabies control programmes in Trashigang on May 15, participants shared incidences of excessive fear among the public from stray dogs.

One of the health officials from Rangjung Basic Health Unit (BHU) said that on several occasions, people have approached the staff to provide them with injections saying that a stray dog passed over their legs. Others who leave bowls and jerry cans outside to collect water have also shared concerns over infected animals putting their mouth into the containers and contaminating the water.

Officials from the dzongkhag livestock department said the excessive hysteria is frequently observed among the public although a series of awareness and risk communication programmes have been conducted in the dzongkhag.

During the daylong workshop, participants from school, hospital, livestock and BAFRA, and key persons from affected areas were asked to make clear to the public that rabies is mostly transmitted to humans, and between animals, through the saliva of infected animals. The transmission is generally through animal bites. Officials also informed participants that transmission between humans is extremely rare, although it could occur through organ transplants, or through bites.

A veterinary officer with the dzongkhag veterinary hospital, Dr Jamyang Namgyal, said the workshop was conducted to build a strong surveillance and monitoring system among the stakeholders and to enhance communication for rabies control.

Following a massive anti-rabies vaccination and risk communication campaign in the dzongkhag, active surveillance and monitoring in high-risk gewogs are on going.

During the first round of the campaign, some 1,660 dogs and cats were vaccinated in Kanglung, Samkhar, Radhi, Phongmey, Bidung, Bartsham, and Rangjung. In the second round, 849 cats and dogs were vaccinated in Chaling, Shongphu, Galing, Changmey, Bikhar followed by 889 in Bidung, Udzorong and Khaling in the third round.

The first case of rabies in Trashigang was reported in a stray dog on July 29 last year in Merak. The dog died the next day and tested positive for rabies virus. The National Center for Animal Health on August 5, 2016 confirmed the disease.

According to livestock officials, the source of rabies in Merak is assumed to be the movement of rabid dogs that travelled with people during trade and festivals from the border area via Sakteng.

The last reported case was on April 25 this year in Rangjung. About 20 people are suspected to have been bitten by rabid dogs since July last year. However, no case of fatality has been reported.

Dr Jamyang Namgyal said that although there has not been a fatal case, the outbreak is alarming. “Rabies is a global issue and Bhutan is aiming to eliminate dog-mediated human rabies by 2020,” he said. “For that reason, this outbreak is a big concern to us.”

This is the first reported case in almost a decade in Trashigang. The disease has caused 17 deaths in the country between 2006 and 2016.

Younten Tshedup 

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