When Animals And Humans Collide


Currently there appears to be several reports of people being bitten by dogs infected with rabies. The message is that anyone bitten by a stray animal should get immediate medical attention. They will then be given a vaccination that will contain antibodies and a vaccine. It is given as a course over several injections usually. This is not a 100% effective treatment and many of these people must be educated on the symptoms should they arise later.

The dog is usually then tested for rabies. If positive, the dogs are then usually quarantined and culled. It is impossible to test all stray dogs and the controversy between culling all strays versus vaccinating them remains. Both will require resources although vaccinating dogs may not be as simple as one thinks. Culling appears to be a short term and drastic action to stem the spread of rabies.

It does take between 2-12 weeks to get the first symptoms of rabies. It is said that once you get symptoms, the situation becomes dire as the rabies virus has taken hold. Treatment is then supportive and survival is bleak.

So when the newspaper reports on rabies cases, it usually refers to the dog which has been positive. It is confusing to many who may assume that it refers to human infection. Monitoring the health of stray animals in the cities where contact with humans is high should be a routine and continuous activity for our Veterinary Department.

Another deadly infection associated with animals, this time usually from the excrement of wild mammals upstream, is leptospirosis. Swimming downstream and ingesting this bacteria can be potentially fatal. Regular testing of the waters in favorite swimming spots may be necessary. Of course, it would be close to impossible to monitor all the rodents upstream!

As contact with animals become increasingly common, cross over infections will happen. Some of them can be potentially catastrophic. The SARS, where the origins of the coronavirus was traced to bats, was devastating to Asia. The recent MERS epidemic in the Middle East, suspected to originate from camels, is another classic example.

Rabies is nothing new but has stubbornly persisted in the animal reservoir, periodically transmitting them to humans. Soon, medical students must learn much more about veterinary medicine to understand potential new human infections, which has yet to happen.