Dog bite: Why vaccination holds key to curbing rabies

A Dog being taken for vaccination in Makueni.
Earlier this month, Lucy Wangui, a KCPE candidate from Kandara, Muranga County, succumbed to rabies. She had been on treatment since September.

About 14 years ago, Barnabas Korir, chairman of Athletics Kenya, Nairobi region, lost his eight-year old daughter, Sharon Chepchumba, from rabies after being bitten by a rabid dog in Nandi during the Christmas holidays.

A small incision left by the dog on Chepchumba’s upper back was all it took to end her life.

Roaming with rabies

Wangui and Chepchumba’s cases may be spread over different years but not isolated even as Kenya grapples with rabies.

Mutua Mutunga, a student at Kambi Mawe Primary School, was bitten by a dog in his village along the Wote-Makindu Road in Makueni County.

The bite in his ankle left marks that will live with Mutunga but when he was taken to hospital, the boy was treated for rabies despite the fact that nobody was sure whether the dog was rabid or not.

Dog bites are the leading cause of rabies in Kenya, with the World Health Organisation reporting that 2,000 people die of rabies every year.

WHO further notes that two out of every five people bitten by rabid dogs are children and there seems to be a problem with vaccination as government mainly resorts to killing stray dogsrather than vaccinating and rehabilitating them.

A research published this year in the Africa Academy of Sciences (AAS) noted that between 1958 and 2017, only 7,584 samples from suspected rabies cases were submitted for laboratory testing.

This leaves many animals – domestic and wild – roaming with rabies out there. Dr Jackson Kioko, the Director of Medical Services, says that an estimated Sh20,000 is spent in treating a single case of rabies. While many countries in Kenya are yet to take the problem seriously, Makueni decided to tackle this problem head-on by vaccinating all dogs within the county.

While there is no medication yet for rabies, treatment in case of a dog bite involves a fast-acting injection of rabies immune globin that prevents the virus from infecting a person.

The other way is through vaccination, which involves four injections of rabies vaccine spread over 14 days.

However, one of the most potent ways is vaccination of animals; Makueni has taken this route.

The campaign against rabies has been ongoing in Makueni, with livestock officers revealing that about 65 per cent of dogs have since been vaccinated. Dr Daniel Kisee, a director with the Livestock Department, says that if the current trend continues the region will be declared rabies-free.

He says rabies is brought about by stray dogs, which are a direct consequence of irresponsibility by dog owners.

Dr Kisee says, “Most dogs are affiliated to children and this is why we are focusing on children so that when we have vaccination drives where the children come with the dogs to have them vaccinated.”

In 2014, Makueni held a dog census that realised there were 125,000 dogs in the area.

Apart from just vaccinating the animals, Dr Kisee says the department works closely with the Health Department to monitor cases of rabies.

It is estimated that Kenya has 4.2 million dogs, and that only about 25,000 of them are vaccinated.

The rabies vaccination campaign in Makueni sees each canine that is vaccinated issued with a certificate.

Steve McIvor, the global CEO of WAP, says that vaccinating dogs is like giving children jabs as they grow up because this helps prevent problems that may arise from dog bites.

“Vaccination helps because in case of a dogbite, the owner just produces the certificate to show that it is vaccinated hence free from rabies, making treatment easy,” says McIvor.

Kenya last year launched the Strategic Plan for Elimination of Human Rabies in 2014-2030, to help tackle the issue.

It reads in part: “Elimination is achievable through mass dog vaccination because dogsare responsible for transmission of over 98 per cent of all human rabies.”  

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