The Union government should make anti-rabies vaccination mandatory shortly after birth to prevent around 49,000 deaths due to animal bites every year, Padma Shri recipient epidemiologist Dr Omesh Bharti said here.
Dr Bharti said on Anti-Rabies Day, “On an average, 49,000 people die every year in India due to rabies. If you want to eradicate it, you will have to make anti-rabies vaccination mandatory shortly after birth.”
If the vaccine was provided to babies shortly after birth, only a booster would be required to prevent rabies in case of bites by dogs, cats, mongoose, monkeys or any other animal, he added.
Dr Bharti was given the Padma Shri by the President in March this year after he developed an immunisation protocol which brought down the cost of treatment from Rs 35,000 to below Rs 350 per patient.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also declared it as the new global standard.
The Himachal Pradesh government has been administering anti-rabies vaccination free of cost since 2014 after its cost was brought down to Rs 350.
Despite free vaccination, five people died due to rabies in Himachal Pradesh this year, Dr Bharti said. He said all five deaths occurred due to dog-bite. There was a need to analyse why these five did not go for vaccination after the dog-bite, he said. He added according to information, some of them were bitten by pups due to which they thought that it would not cause rabies.
This misconception and lack of awareness were the main reasons for the five deaths, Dr Bharti said.
In Himachal Pradesh, rabies-related deaths take place after being bitten by dogs, cats and mongoose.
Rabies: An introduction
Rabies is a viral disease that causes inflammation of the brain in humans and other mammals. Early symptoms can include fever and tingling at the site of exposure. These symptoms are followed by one or more of the following symptoms: violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, fear of water, an inability to move parts of the body, confusion, and loss of consciousness.
Once symptoms appear, the result is nearly always death. The time period between contracting the disease and the start of symptoms is usually one to three months but can vary from less than one week to more than one year. The time depends on the distance the virus must travel along peripheral nerves to reach the central nervous system.
Rabies is caused by the lyssavirus, including the rabies virus and Australian bat lyssavirus. It is spread when an infected animal scratches or bites another animal or human. Saliva from an infected animal can also transmit the disease if the saliva comes into contact with the eyes, mouth, or nose.
Globally, dogs are the most common animal vector involved. In countries where dogs commonly have the disease, more than 99% of the cases are the direct result of dog bites. In the Americas, bat bites are the most common source of infection in humans, and less than 5% of cases are from dogs. Rodents are very rarely infected with rabies. The disease can be diagnosed only after the start of symptoms.