In the Philippines, having a pet cat or dog at home is common. While having pets at home improves our general well-being, that benefit comes with the responsibility to ensure that they do not get rabies to not infect humans.
Rabies is a human infection that develops after a bite or scratch by an infected animal, often dogs and cats. It is transmitted when infectious material, usually saliva, comes into direct contact with a victim’s fresh skin lesions.
A severe disease, rabies is 100% fatal but 100% preventable. Death is almost certain if infected individuals don’t receive post-exposure prophylaxis before symptoms start to appear. The incubation period varies from several days to several years. But most symptoms for most human infections usually appear between 2 and 12 weeks following the infection.
Symptoms usually appear 1 to 3 months, although they can appear as early as a few days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms include fever and pain or a tingling sensation at the wound site.
Because of the inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, some patients experience anxiety, hyperactivity, convulsions, delirium, and fear of swallowing or drinking liquids, and a fear of moving air or drafts. In other patients, muscles become paralyzed, then followed by coma.
Once symptoms appear, most patients die within 1 or 2 weeks.
Rabies in the Philippines
Rabies continues to be an acutely fatal infectious disease, with 250 to 300 deaths yearly. At least one-third of human rabies deaths are of children less than 15 years old. Two-thirds of the total cases are males.
According to the National Rabies Prevention and Control Program Strategic Plan 2020 – 2025 of the Department of Health and Department of Agriculture, human rabies cases fluctuated from 285 in 2007 to 276 in 2018.
Responsible pet ownership
How can rabies be prevented? Responsible pet ownership is essential, and it involves making sure that your pets get regular vaccines against rabies yearly.
Proper treatment of animal bite
Knowing the proper treatment for animal bites is critical. Wash your wound with running water right away for about 10 to 15 minutes. This action can remove 94.4 percent of the viral particles. Have your wounds seen and appropriately assessed by medical professionals for proper treatment.
Avoid contact with stray animals or wildlife
Try to anticipate an animal’s actions. Be careful that you don’t make any sudden moves or to surprise them.
First Aid for Animal Bites
Even before going to an animal bite center or clinic, wash the animal bite with soap and running water thoroughly for 10 to 15 minutes. If you want to lower the chance of getting rabies, you have to get rid of saliva as much as you can and as soon as possible. This lowers your risk of rabies by 40%. Seek medical attention immediately.
Interacting with Animals When Traveling
The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) gives us this guide on interacting with animals when traveling:
DOH Rabies Awareness and Advocacy Campaign
The rabies awareness and advocacy campaign in the Philippines takes center stage on two occasions: every March, which is the Rabies awareness month, and September 28, the World Rabies Day.
The campaign focuses on 3 target audiences:
1. Pet owners – to have their dog/s registered and vaccinated;
2. Animal bite victims – to practice immediate washing of bite areas with soap and water for at least 10 minutes and receive appropriate Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) if needed from trained health workers
3. Legislators, Local Chief Executives (LCEs), NGOs POs and other stakeholders – to implement and support a comprehensive rabies prevention and control program.
As earlier mentioned, rabies is 100% fatal but 100% preventable. Take care of your pets and be careful around stray animals. Let’s make sure to do our part to prevent rabies.