Officials sound alarm as TN logs 18 rabies deaths in 8 months in 2022
CHENNAI: Even as the people and government in neighbouring Kerala are furiously debating the stray dog menace and the authorities’ failure in curbing it, official sources here have confirmed an alarming statistics.
There have been 18 rabies deaths in Tamil Nadu in just eight months from January to August this year, a situation that the officials themselves term as worrying.
A senior official with the Directorate of Public Health (DPH) blamed the fatalities on lack of awareness about how deadly the virus is, noting how many do not take the anti-rabies medicine after getting bitten by dogs.
“The situation is alarming. We have lost 18 lives till now this year,” said the official, recalling a recent case where a person who was referred to RGGGH from Government Stanley Medical College Hospital died of rabies.
“In some cases, it is the pet dogs that turned out to the carrier,” said a medical officer with a government hospital.
“If a person fails to take the full course of the medicine after dog bite, she/he will die because there is no treatment for rabies. The disease is 99.9 per cent fatal,” said another official, adding, “We are monitoring the previous year’s case history and the data will be shared with government for further action.”
The numbers with DPH reveal that 18 people died of rabies in Tamil Nadu from January to August, while more than 60,000 have taken the medicines for dog and other animal bites.
Officials said the State has adequate stock of anti-rabies medicines in all government hospitals, primary healthcare centres and taluk hospitals.
To control the population of stray dogs and offer anti-rabies vaccination, the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) has three animal birth control (ABC) centres at Pulianthope, Lloyds colony and Kannammapettai that are functioning in association with the Blue Cross of India.
Ruff tails leave city jittery
Even as neighbouring Kerala is mulling over the idea of culling stray rabid dogs and is planning to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court, the growing incidents of deadly stray dog behaviour and rising rabies deaths there has snowballed into Tamil Nadu with social media going gaga on the issue.
In the past decade, Tamil Nadu had recorded more than 60 rabies deaths and Coimbatore had recorded a couple of cases where children were mauled to death by stray dogs.
The hearing of the Supreme Court on the stray dog menace has also caused anxious moments for dog lovers who feel that the attack on stray dogs has also increased in the recent past. The Supreme Court’s observation that those feeding stray dogs are also accountable for their deadly behaviour has brought some cheer among the residents but has left the dog lovers upset.
Animal activists claim that the bench did not make oral or written observations. They also term it false propaganda promoted by animal haters and only reveals their hatred towards the animals.
G Arun Prasanna, secretary, People for Cattle in India said, “Recently, there was a hearing on this issue in the Supreme Court and the justice said that he is not going to pass any order today and posted it on September 28. During the hearing, a lot of comments and observations were made, but no orders passed. The petitioners have circulated fake news, he says.
“Dogs are not a burden. The crime rates, especially theft and robbery, have decreased drastically in and around the city due to their presence. Further, the stray dogs restrict the movement of anti-social elements during late night hours and it is a known fact that dogs are the most loyal friend to humans,” he adds.
“The stray dog threat is very much there in our city also and it shows a complete failure on part of the corporation authorities in tackling the issue. Stray dogs are spotted so commonly in Vepery and Choolai, where pet owners visiting Madras Veterinary College abandon them. Further, this shows that animal control birth control programme is not effectively implemented in Chennai,” says D Surendhar, a resident of Choolai.
“Citizens have the right to feed community dogs but in exercising this right, care and caution should be taken to ensure that it does not impinge upon the rights of others or cause any harm, hindrance, harassment and nuisance to other individuals or members of the society. Only a few dogs become aggressive, and humans are the prior reason for it. And inhumane orders against the dogs cannot be accepted. They should think about their future and how they will survive in this society,” says M Balakrishnan, an animal activist.
Lok Sabha MP and animal activist Maneka Gandhi have released a video against the fake reports that are being circulated in the media, especially in Kerala regarding the Supreme Court’s oral observation on the street dog issue in Kerala.
“Recently in Salem, a government bus conductor fell from the vehicle and died after the driver applied a sudden brake to avoid a dog crossing the road. Several fatal road accidents are caused by dogs,” admits a life member of Madras SPCA pointing out that the state government lacks an action plan in the state to curb the menace.
“There has to be a dog census and their population should be controlled scientifically. Dogs with rabies and viral infections should be killed. Pups and healthy dogs should be shifted to an adoption centre or a home. Then the animal birth control programme should be taken up on a massive scale,” suggests the dog lover.
“Children are often attacked by stray dogs when on the streets and dog lovers fail to understand the seriousness of the issue. Further stray dogs also pose danger to wildlife by spreading viral infections. Jackal, leopard, wild dog, lion and tiger are also vulnerable to canine distemper and rabies that can spread from stray dog population,” says K Brinda, conservation scientist, Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Tiruchy.
“Feeding stray dogs has become a risky proposition in the present day scenario. My neighbours had faced an attack from the dog which they fed daily and had been put to treatment. It is very risky as most stray dogs are not tamed or trained compared to pet animals. As the dogs are often exposed to fighting with other dogs, they lose their friendly characteristics and at times bite even the person who feeds them,” says Dayanand Krishnan, a civic activist in Chitlapakkam.
“The government can pick the stray dogs from the streets and grow a canine yard to retain them until they are tamed or trained. Controlling the stray dogs is a must to save the children from dog bites,” he adds.
“Even though complaints are raised to the departments concerned, they don’t bother to visit the spot or vaccinate the dogs. We are scared of sending the children outside alone because the dogs chase them. And when we feed them, the dogs behave aggressively,” says Ananthanan, a resident of Tambaram.
FIRST PERSON ACCOUNT
When pet turned rogue and bit us before dying
Last year, a friend in Mogappair called me saying his pet dog’s behaviour was rude and it was charging at neighbours.
Two days later, he called again and said his dog had bitten him and was showing signs of rabies. I assisted him to Madras Veterinary College where vets confirmed rabies. We had no clue how to deal with the dog which during transit also bit me. “There was no provision to leave the dog and a local attendee gave the contact number of a dog handler outside Chennai. Then after meeting top officials at the College they admitted the dog there. The episode caused sleepless nights for a few weeks. Luckily, we took anti-rabies jab the same day, but for my friend, it was an emotional day to abandon his rabies-infected dog. He cried when he took the pictures of his pet before handing it to government shelter.”
— G Sudharsan, a resident of Poombugar Nagar, Kolathur
Two more ABC centres to come up in city
“Two more ABC centres at Meenambakkam and Sholinganallur will be functional shortly. Sixteen dog-catching vehicles with five catchers each are being deputed for the programme. There is sufficient anti rabies vaccine (ARV) doses available at ABC centres and four pet clinics of the Corporation. For 2022-23, we have procured 12,590 doses of ARV from TN Medical Service Corporation (TNMSC),” said Corporation Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi.
Every year on World Rabies Day, the Blue Cross conducts awareness campaign for pet owners. Vinod Kumar, general manager, BCI, said the only way to overcome rabies was prevention, especially by those who are in contact with animals regularly.
Even if a pet dog bites, the person should get vaccinated without delay. Otherwise the consequences can be fatal, he warned.