Two months ago,?ago, a two-year-old boy was mauled? by dogs in Nyeri; he later died.
A month later, six people in Nakuru town, among them four children below the age of 10, were injured by stray dogs.
A report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries says that 2,000 people die? from rabies every year, 40 per cent of them children.
Many Kenyans keep dogs for security reasons or as pets, but few of them know how to take proper care of a dog’s health.
As a result, many dog owners neither vaccinate them against rabies nor socialise them with humans.
Worse still, few of them know that their personal health, to a certain extent, depends on the health of their dog.
That is why Makueni County, which has a high incidence of rabies, has taken it upon itself? to educate the residents on responsible dog ownership and care.
All the area’s residents, both adults and children, are involved in the programme.
At Kambi Mawe Primary School in Wote, only three of the 40 Standard Six students don’t have dogs.
But they have all? been taught how to take care of, and protect, dogs, thanks to an animal welfare club at the school run by the county government in partnership with the World? Animal Protection.
Dr? Daniel Muli Ksee, the county’s acting chief officer, livestock and fisheries, says failure to enforce the relevant laws complicates the fight against rabies. “We have the Rabies Control Act but enforcement has been poor.
Everyone who owns a dog must take responsibility for its care and treatment,”? he says,? adding that documentation of rabies cases in the county has been poor.
In some cases, medical personnel mistake it for cerebral malaria.
“In such cases, doctors? discover only learn that a patient had rabies after the patient has died,” he notes.
The pupils at Kambi Mawe Primary School seem knowledgeable about rabies.
“Rabies is an illness that is caused by a dog bite.
It can spread to humans and livestock,” says Peter Muia, 14, adding that the club has taught him? how to take proper care of a dog – how to build it a kennel, feed it, take it for vaccination every year and keep it clean.
The boys say they keep dogs mainly to hunt down small animals like rabbits and rodents like squirrels and porcupines that? destroy crops on their? farms. In fact, most of the villagers keep dogs out of necessity. As small-scale farmers in a region that relies primarily on rain-fed agriculture — which often fails — they cannot afford to lose any of their crop,
“Because of the rodents and monkeys that infest my small farm, I cannot do without a dog,” says Jennifer Mueni Kamau at her home in Muthwani village in Mbooni.
This is despite the pain she suffered after being bitten by her own dog.
One evening in mid-June this year, shortly after feeding her dog, Ms Kamau heard it howl. On checking, she found it bleeding.
The next morning, she realised that it had bite marks. Two days later it became aggressive and tried to bite her daughter who was bringing it food.
On the third day it bit Ms Kamau on the leg, and in the evening, it bit her youngest daughter unprovoked.
“The following morning, I informed my neighbours, who advised us to seek medical attention. We went to Wote Sub-county hospital where we were treated and asked to go back for injections,” she says.
“Each? injection cost Sh1,000 and each one of us had to have five. On the first day alone, we spent Sh3,000. I was forced to borrow money from my neighbours,” says the widowed mother of five.
Two days later, the dog died and Ms Kamau informed the area veterinary officer. “He cut the head and took it for laboratory tests while we buried the body,” she says. A week later, the vet told her that the dog had? rabies. Ms Kamau had been given the dog by one of the villagers and had kept it for two months.
Still,? she could not do without a dog so in September she got another small dog she named? Vickie But this time she? had it vaccinated before taking it? home.
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
She now educates her fellow villages on the risks of keeping a dog that has not been vaccinated.
“Rabies treatment cost me Sh15,000 yet vaccinating a dog costs only Sh100. It is better to be safe than sorry,” she says.
Bernard Musyoka Muia of Katuma village? underwent a similar experience when his donkey contracted rabies in May this year. The family noted that something was wrong when? the donkey started feeding poorly.?
“Whenever it saw me enter the gate, it would bray but on the day I was told that it was not eating well and went? to check on it, it was drooling, quiet and sad,” he says.
This went on for another two days, after which he called in the vet, who confirmed that it was ill.
?“It had contracted rabies so we had to tie it very far away to isolate it from the goats,” he offers.
Meanwhile,? he had his goats vaccinated? against rabies. He? also continued to observe the donkey and before the week was over, it was struggling to bite a tree trunk.
“I had muzzle it with a piece of cloth to prevent it from biting anyone,” he says.
He watched helplessly as the donkey’s health deteriorated over the next few days. Finally, it started making weired noises and then died. The vet visited again and chopped off its head for laboratory analysis.
Mr Muia recalls that a few days before his donkey got ill, a neighbour’s dog that was ill had been in his compound and might have scratched the donkey.
“The dog also bit someone else, who went for anti-rabies injections. It was a small dog and was later killed by the villagers,” he says
Dr Kwamboka Aondo, the veterinary officer in Mbooni Sub-county in Makueni, says the typical symptoms of animals infected with rabies are drooling, foaming at the mouth? unprovoked ferocity and? paralysis..
A simple scratch can transmit rabies from animal to animal or from animal to humans, says Dr Aondo, adding? that the rabies virus usually? thrives in the salivary glands.
?“Because of the drooling, the contaminated saliva might get onto the dog’s claws and when it scratches another animal or a person, they can easily get the virus,” she offers. Apart from dogs, cats and donkeys should also be vaccinated against rabies because they relate very closely with people.
Meanwhile, Dr Ksee says the? number of rabies cases Makueni is going down thanks to? the? control programme they launched in August 2015, which? vaccinates the? villagersdogs for free. The programme achieved 36 per cent of the targeted turnout in 2015. “This was based on the initial census results on dog population conducted in 2013,” says? Dr Ksee.
In December 2015, the vaccinations were carried out in six wards and in April 2016, eight wards were covered. “In August 2016, we covered? 13 wards and in December 2016, we incorporated the entire county, covering all the 30 wards,” Dr Ksee reveals.
In the programme, every dog must be vaccinated annually.
“The programme will run for at least three consecutive years until we reach the critical mass, which is at least 70 per cent of the total dog population,” Dr Ksee says.
When the county government came into being in 2013,? with the advent of? devolution,? the incidence of rabies was high.
“We immediately started focusing on rabies reduction and control,” Dr Ksee? says. “The World Animal Protection came in as a partner with their expertise and material support since we could not do it alone.”
Then, in 2014, the national government launched the strategic plan for the elimination of rabies in Kenya. “During this period the county government partnered with the national government’s zoonotic diseases unit and the World Animal Protection to? conduct a pilot project of the national plan for the elimination of rabies,” he recalls. Makueni was among the first six counties – among Machakos, Kisumu and Siaya – to roll out the plan following the launch of the strategic plan on September 28, 2014, on World Rabies Day.??
“There were a number of rabies cases in this county and that is why it was chosen for the pilot project,” says Dr Ksee.
The county government conducted a census that? put the dog population at 125,000. “Since then we have given special attention to mass dog vaccination as a way of reducing? the spread of rabies,” he adds.
?This is supported by surveillance? to ensure the effectiveness? of the programme, responsible dog ownership, training, and creating awarnesss among? the people so that they appreciate their dogs. For maximum reach, the?? county has created? coordination committees at the county and sub-county levels to ensure the smooth coordination of the vaccinations in all its 30 wards.
What you need to know
If you have a dog, you should take care of it and have it vaccinated to ensure that it is healthy. Rabies spreads through a dog bite or scratch, and that is why it is important to vaccinate dogs. Rabies is a viral disease? that can be transmitted through other animal bites, scratches and licks. The virus is transmitted via the saliva of an infected animal.
The rate at which the disease spreads depends on where one has been bitten or scratched. The rabies virus travels along the nerves to the spinal cord and then to the brain, where it multiplies.
The closer to the spine and the head the site of attack is, the faster the transmission of the virus to the brain, says Dr Aondo. She adds that by the time the symptoms show, the virus is already in the brain and nothing can be done to reverse the infection.
?Although most rabies cases in Kenya are transmitted by dogs, other animals can also transmit the disease. Indeed, cats, dogs, donkeys, bats and cows have been known to transmit rabies to humans. Care should be taken to vaccinate all pets and livestock against rabies, but unfortunately, not many farmers do, regrets Dr Aondo.Rabies is 100 per cent fatal. “This means once you get infected and you start showing clinical signs, there is no cure,” she says. It can take from? weeks up to three? months between the bite and for the clinical signs to show.
Rabies might be scary, but it is?? preventable. Here’s how:
If bitten or scratched, immediately wash and flush the wound with soap and running water for at least 15 minutes; you may use disinfectants. Immediately after washing the bite, go to the nearest health facility (that can provide the necessary care).
For any bite where the skin is broken and for bites close to the head (brain), it is highly advisable that you get rabies immunoglobulins from a medical facility. This is because it takes up to seven days for the rabies vaccine to start protecting you against the virus while immunoglobulins provide immediate protection. Immunoglobulins are applied directly to the? wound to kill any viruses there.?
If immunoglobulins are not available, get the rabies vaccine immediately. Rabies vaccines are given as intramuscular injections in five doses, with the first on the day you visit hospital and then on the third, seventh, fourteenth and twenty-eighth days.
The rabies vaccine is the main treatment for all types of? animal bites, and should be administered? as soon as possible.