Lack of Vaccination Leads to 13 Rabies Deaths in Kerala in 5 Months

In the first five months of this year, 13 people in Kerala succumbed to rabies, with 10 of the victims not having received a single dose of the anti-rabies vaccine. This alarming statistic underscores the public’s inadequate response to the awareness campaigns spearheaded by Kerala’s health department. The World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasizes that rabies is nearly 100% fatal once clinical symptoms appear.

Data from the Directorate of Health Services reveals that out of the 13 deaths recorded by May 30, five individuals had no history of animal bites or scratches. Among the remaining eight, three were bitten by domestic dogs, and five by stray dogs. One confirmed rabies case was admitted to the ICU. With domestic dogs responsible for three of this year’s rabies fatalities, questions arise about the effectiveness of the 2022 anti-rabies vaccination drive for pets, which was intensified following 27 rabies deaths in Kerala that year.

The most recent rabies death occurred in Mannarkadu, Palakkad, involving an unvaccinated woman who had been bitten by a stray puppy she had adopted. Despite using gloves while handling pets, she might have ignored the bite due to its mild nature.

Of the 13 deaths, three individuals died despite being vaccinated, all suffering severe bites on their faces, lips, or earlobes—categorized as severe (category 3) wounds. These individuals had received rabies immunoglobulin and vaccine as per post-exposure prophylaxis guidelines but succumbed due to the nature of their injuries. Health officials noted that less severe wounds, if properly treated with vaccination, could have saved lives.

Experts stress that the nature and management of bite wounds are critical in rabies prevention. Thorough washing of the wound with soap immediately after a bite reduces the virus load, providing crucial time for the vaccine to be effective.

This year, among the rabies victims were children aged 10 to 12, with two from Palakkad. In one instance, a stray dog bit a child, but the parents were unaware of the exposure. Fear of vaccination is a concern among children, prompting health officials to introduce awareness programs in schools, including puppet shows, to mitigate this fear.

In 2023, when 25 rabies deaths were reported in Kerala, a high percentage of victims were unvaccinated. Dr. Harikumar, state nodal officer of the national rabies control program, emphasized the need for continuous public reminders about the importance of vaccination and not ignoring even minor bites or scratches.

From 2016 to 2022, Kerala spent Rs 51 crore on rabies vaccines, yet 67 lives were lost to the disease. Data shows that 65% of rabies fatalities in 2021 and 2022 involved individuals who had not received a single dose of vaccine or serum. The expenditure on intra-dermal rabies vaccines rose from Rs 4.16 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 13.82 crore in 2021-22.

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