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While no one knows exactly how many of Burma’s estimated 4 million stray dogs carry rabies, UN news service IRIN reported on Monday that some sources claim alarming numbers as high as 75 percent.
According to IRIN, health workers in Burma say that the fatal disease is a serious threat for the country’s urban dwellers.
Dr Nyunt Thein, retired professor from Rangoon University of Medicine, points out the importance of action.
“Ideally, it would be the best if there were no stray dogs at all”, he said. “Lately authorities have been culling stray dogs, and from the Buddhist point of view, that’s not a nice thing to do. But on the other hand, they are dangerous to the society and we need to weigh these two factors together.”
He said it would be a good idea to do as some charity organisations are doing and round the dogs up in one place and give them vaccines, which would avoid inconvenience from both religious and social points of views.
The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 25,000 people die from rabies every year in Southeast Asia. Burma has the second-highest rabies death count in the region with around 1,000 deaths from rabies every year, surpassed only by India.
IRIN attributed the high numbers to a stunning lack of awareness about health risks and a shortage of vaccination supplies for both humans and animals.
However, Dr Nyunt Thein says that it’s more likely to be cured today than before.
“In the past, rabies vaccine was harvested from animals’ brains after infecting them with the virus, which can harm the patient as much as it can help, leaving them with meningitis. But the vaccines nowadays are not like that; they are more progressive.”
Today the vaccines can be injected on the arm and they only take five to seven shots to cure, which is much more convenient for the patients.
The IRIN report states that the spread of this fatal but preventable disease could be mitigated in Burma by support for awareness campaigns and clinics offering vaccination services.