Malaysia fears rabies outbreak 

Malaysia and Thailand will hold talks next month to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation on disease control amid growing fears of a Borneo rabies outbreak.

Malaysian Veterinary Services Department director general Dr Quaza Nizamuddin Hassan Nizam said Indonesia would also be consulted.

A rabies outbreak in Serian, Sarawak, on the giant island of Borneo, left three under-sevens dead this month.

Two other girls were infected with rabies at the fishing village of Kuala Sepetang.

Quaza said the dog owner’s daughter, 11, and niece, 12, were bitten in Tepi Sungai on July 4. “A physical check on the [dog’s] carcass also showed bite marks on its penis,” Quaza said, adding that it was an isolated case and was not related to the outbreak in Sarawak.

Five days after biting the girls, the dog showed signs of rabies.

He said the pet was probably infected after being bitten by a rabid dog, believed to have come with foreigners via a boat.

Health Minister S Subramaniam said infected dogs in the neighbouring Indonesian province of Kalimantan might have brought the outbreak.

Quaza told the Malaysia media that the department was looking into setting up a rabies “immune belt” along the border in Sabah and Sarawak.

He said a risk-assessment study would be carried out before October over the probability of future occurrences and how wide any buffer zone should be.

Malaysia has had a rabies immune zone along the Thai border up to 80km wide since 1955.

Pet dogs must be vaccinated and stray dogs controlled.

Quaza said no a similar zone had been needed on the Borneo border.

He said for compulsory Sabah and Sarawak rabies vaccination was introduced, it would require the states to amend their veterinary laws.

While rabies cases are normally caused by dog bites, cats, bats, foxes, jackals and mongooses can also host the virus.

Quaza added that Malaysia had 20,000 doses of rabies vaccines, which was sufficient for now.

He called on pet owners in border areas to protect their dogs and cats by not letting them roam freely and to have them vaccinated.

“With more development in the country, the space separating humans and animals is shrinking, leading to higher chances of infectious diseases carried by animals. The department is constantly monitoring the situation and we have matters under control. But the people must also do their part such as ensuring pets are vaccinated, not allowing their pets to roam and avoid contact with strays,” Quaza told the media. He said everyone should be able to spot infected animal.

“Such infected animals are usually foaming at the mouth, If bitten, it is important for humans to immediately wash the bitten area with soap and water and seek medical treatment,” he added.

Malaysians are being asked to learn about rabies. Picture credit: Flickr