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Rabies kills thousands in India

by editor2
August 5th, 2006

Health workers have launched a new drive to round up thousands of stray dogs in India’s West Bengal state to counter rabies, with concern rising because of a shortage of vaccine.

In West Bengal alone, over 40,000 people go to government hospitals every year after being bitten by dogs, but few complete the required course of treatment – partly because vaccines are in short supply.

There is no option left but to control the dog population as rabies is spiralling out of control and no vaccines are available to treat thousands of victims. India reports at least 20,500 deaths from rabies every year out of 50,000 fatalities globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) data. But experts say many deaths go unreported. Poor people cannot afford to buy vaccines, which cost around 1,500 rupees ($32) for a full course from private hospitals and chemists.

In towns and cities across India, stray dogs are a common sight and often chase pedestrians, cyclists and cars. Kolkata alone is home to over 100,000 street dogs of which 65,000 are potential carriers of the rabies virus, adding that an 80 percent shortfall of anti-rabies vaccines in West Bengal reflects a similar situation in other parts of India. Controlling the dog population by vasectomy and isolating rabid dogs seems to be the only way out for India now, according to a WHO official.

Animal welfare groups say they are hard pressed. The team of workers is hardly getting any sleep as dogs are being caught all the time, according to the Compassionate Crusaders Trust (CCT). The CCT gets hundreds of calls a week from frantic residents in Kolkata asking for help after being bitten by a dog. If a person does not start the vaccination process within hours of a dog bite, they can die of rabies within days or weeks.

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