The killing bite: Seven died as Thailand battles rabies epidemic



Thailand is battling to halt the spread of a rabies epidemic, which has already claimed seven lives.

The disease is most often caught through being bitten by an infected animal.

Stray cats and dogs are being rounded up, but the authorities have huge numbers of animals to cope with.

At the front line of the fight are mobile units where vets are vaccinating stray cats and dogs, as well as domestic pets brought in by their owners.

Some animals are also being sterilized to prevent breeding.

Sterilization is being used to reduce the dog and cat population in Thailand.

Rabies causes inflammation of the brain, and in humans is almost always fatal.

Seven people – including two children – have died after being infected in the first 76 days of the year – that’s more than half the entire 2017 total. All were thought to have been bitten by stray animals.

The capital Bangkok is one of 39 Thai provinces that have been declared Rabies Epidemic Zones.

Dr. Viriya Kaewthong, director-general of the Bureau of Disease Control at the Thai Ministry of Agriculture, said: “People need to be aware of the situation but not panic. Our advice is to keep away from animals that you do not know.”

Already 400 animals have been confirmed to have rabies.

Many owners know the need for vaccination but said they couldn’t afford the cost.

One owner at the mobile unit with her pet admitted: “I’ve come here because it’s free, I don’t have money.”

Owners bring their animals to a mobile vaccination center in Bangkok.

Thailand has huge numbers of stray dogs. One charity, the Soi Dog Foundation, estimates at least eight million across the country. Authorities are now looking at an ongoing vaccination program.

Globally, there are many thousands of rabies deaths each year, with 95 percent of fatalities occurring in Africa and Asia.

Thailand suffered a major rabies outbreak in 1980 that resulted in 370 deaths – but in recent years the number of victims has been low.

Between 2011 and 2015 fatalities had been reduced to single figures, but a recent spike saw 14 deaths in 2016 and 11 last year.

It’s hoped swift action now can halt further spread of the disease.