Of the sixty thousand humans succumbing to Rabies every year, more than one-third are reported from India. The country thus continues to stay at rank first in the world. Dogs are the main source, contributing up to 99% of all rabies transmissions. Majority (40%) of the people bitten are children up to 15 years age.
Free roaming or stray or street dogs constitute seventy five percent of the total world dog population (70 crore).Their population in Srinagar city was once claimed ninety thousand and the dog - human ratio, 1:13 (Chennai 1:100, Delhi 1:43).Sixty thousand dog bite cases were presented in SMHS hospital, Srinagar during last ten years.The number of the domestic animals attacked and killed by dogs (although not recorded meticulously) could be many times the corresponding human figures. Consequently, the economic loss to the farmers is enormous. Sheep is the most vulnerable species.A study conducted three years ago in the University Referral Veterinary Hospital, FVSc, Shuhama, revealed 12% of the sheep presented for surgical intervention suffered from the dog bite wounds. The highly mutilated animals only are generally referred to this hospital.The wildlife is also not spared from the deleterious consequences of stray dog overpopulation.In fact, the pathogen pollution, predation, competition and hybridization stand recorded in several species and places throughout the world.
The strategy for successful elimination of Rabies advocated by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH, formerly OIE), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) involve simultaneous adoption of mass dog vaccination, human vaccination and post-exposure treatment, stray dog population managementand improvement in thelevel of awareness among the masses.Of the several components, the stray dog population management and education of the public are the most crucial ones for achieving rabies-free world. The mass culling, long-term sheltering and fertility control are the strategies generally discussed for managing the stray dog overpopulation.
The poisoning (using strychnine) of the dogs used earlier in few low-income countries showed short term effect (even maximal killing up to 24% per year) only. Wherever the dogs are removed others migrate into the area to fill the ecological niche. Spillage of the poison also has the potential to become environmental hazard.Culling by poisoning results in highly painful death; an important animal welfare issue. The practice as per the WHO guidelines (1990) is therefore now discouraged. Since 2001, the killing of stray dogs is illegalin India. Sheltering, feeding and maintaining thousands of dogs in species-specific socially compatible groups is too expensive for any developing nation.
The contraceptive drugs can safely be used in dogs but require repeated use, making this strategy neither feasible nor affordable in stray dogs (unlike pets). The mechanical and intrauterine devices are difficult to fit in the reproductive system of the dogs and have high failure rates.The Zona Pellucida (ZP) Vaccine developed to prevent fertilization is yet to be standardized. It results in short-term infertility in more than 75% of the vaccinated animals and is accompanied by several side effects.In males, the chemicals infiltrated into the testicles for achieving sterility may either be expensive to import (Zinc gluconate neutralized by arginine).The easily available alternatives (calcium chloride, chlorhexidine gluconate, dilute formaldehyde or zinc tannate)show inconsistent results.
The surgical castration and spaying have remained the mainstay,despite several disadvantages; too expensive for stray/unowned dogs, cumbersome procedure of street-dog catching, their transport to & from the Animal Birth Control (ABC) Centers, need for skilled staff, facilities, and medicines (Anti Rabies Vaccine, Sedatives, Anesthesia, Antibiotics, Analgesics, Wound Dressings etc.), postoperative maintenance in confinement and feeding for 3 days, managing complications(if any).The permanent sterility and diminution in the unacceptable (aggressive) behaviors achieved in the operated animals (unlike all other available options) have made this modality unavoidable. In bitches, the removal of ovaries along with the uterus is routinely undertaken. However, laparoscopic retrieval of ovaries only and tubal ligation are also possible. In male dogs, the testicles located outside the body are both removed surgically. Pinhole castration technique standardized in FVSc & AH, Shuhama for stray dogs is routinely used satisfactorily in resource poor African countries like Uganda under ‘The big fix Uganda’ programme. The dogs can also be vasectomized but unwanted behaviours are retained. Hoping for a breakthrough, the current research mainly focusses on the development of targeted cytokines and gene silencing technology.
The veterinarians and the medicos are struggling independently to reduce the prevalence of Rabies but the overall results were never encouraging. “One Health” a comparatively new concept has given some hope to eliminate this dreaded disease from the planet. The integrated and joint approaches by all the stakeholders implemented with sincerity are expected to significantly reduce the agony associated with dog bites and Rabies. The public awareness regarding various preventive measures and the initial and the most important first aid management of dog bite wounds both in humans and animals should get priority. Better response will be received if medicos & vets take this challenge jointly. For getting tangible results on ground, multiple Animal Birth Control- AntiRabies Vaccination (ABC-ARV) centers need to be established in all the cities and towns to cover the needed minimum seventy percent of the stray dog population in the shortest possible period. The political will and the positive change in the bureaucratic mindset to invest wholeheartedly in ABC-ARV programme could be instrumental in achieving the goals.
To break the cycle of one of the oldest diseases accompanied by highly painful death, the 16th World Rabies Day celebrations on 28th September with the theme ‘Rabies: One Health, Zero Deaths’ provide an opportunity to think and act beyond professional boundaries. The integrated approaches are not only relevant but also encourage the stakeholders to work optimally and collaboratively till the rabies control programme becomes the first major success story of the One Health.
(The Author is Ex-Professor (Veterinary Surgery),FVSc & AH, Shuhama, Srinagar. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)