First things you must do to save life when bitten by rabid dog

A bite by a dog, whether owned or stray and suspected to be rabid, is considered as an emergency and should be treated as such.

In the recent past, there has been an increase in cases of dog bites in various parts of the country. The most recent case was of a six-year-old boy in Siaya County who was bitten by a rabid dog on his way to a shop. After it happened, the mother washed the wound with water and rushed him to hospital. The boy did not receive the full dose of Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) vaccine injection because of stock shortages. Unfortunately, the young man later died after a harrowing experience. Sad indeed. There is need to prevent such occurrences. So what should you do when a rabid dog bites you?

A bite by a dog, whether owned or stray and suspected to be rabid, is considered as an emergency and should be treated as such. PEP is the immediate treatment of a bite victim after rabies exposure. This prevents virus entry into the central nervous system, which results in imminent death. PEP consists of thorough washing and local treatment of the bite wound or scratch as soon as possible after a suspected exposure, a course of potent and effective rabies vaccine that meets World Health Organisation standards and the administration of rabies immunoglobulin (RIG), if indicated. Starting the treatment soon after an exposure to rabies virus can effectively prevent the onset of symptoms and death.

Proper wound washing

This entails immediate and thorough flushing and washing of the wound for a minimum of 15 minutes with soap and water, detergent, povidone iodine or other substances that remove and kill the rabies virus.

Exposure risk and treatment

At the hospital, make sure to inform the medics at the triage that you have been bitten by a dog suspected to be rabid. Depending on the severity of the contact with the suspected rabid animal, administration of a full post-exposure prophylaxis course is recommended by World Health Organisation.

The injections are given on day 1, 3, 7, 21 and 28. This series of rabies vaccinations help your body learn to identify and fight the rabies virus. Rabies vaccinations are given as injections in your arm. If you haven’t previously had the rabies vaccines, you’ll receive the five injections over 28 days. In case you have had the rabies vaccine, you’ll have two injections over the first three days.

This risk of rabies is increased if the biting mammal is a known rabies reservoir or vector species, the exposure occurs in a geographical area where rabies is still present and the animal looks sick or displays abnormal behaviour.

Moreover, there is a risk if a wound or mucous membrane was contaminated by the animal’s saliva, the bite was unprovoked and if the animal has not been vaccinated.

Mass vaccination 

Mass dog vaccination has been cited as the best way to eradicate rabies in Kenya. In line with that, the Kenya Veterinary Association Celebrated the 16th World Rabies Day in Kitui last weekend. Speaking at the event, Dr Nicholas Muyale said World Rabies Day events play a special role in supporting rabies prevention efforts by enabling and encouraging people to get involved, become aware of the disease, how it spreads, and understand what they can do to prevent it.

“We have gathered in Kitui as veterinarians and stakeholders to highlight and promote public awareness and risk communication, educate communities and professionals, improve dog population management, and undertake mass community dog, cats and donkey vaccination. This builds towards eliminating dog-bite transmitted rabies by 2030,” he said.

World Rabies Day

World Rabies Day builds a social and political environment that supports policy change, driving governments and stakeholders to prioritise rabies and attract resources for prevention and control programmes.

[Dr Paul Kangethe is a Veterinary Surgeon and the Resident Vet at FarmKenya]

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