Doctors say misconceptions about dog bites linger, more awareness needed in the community
Several years ago, a dog bite meant getting 16 shots of an anti-rabies vaccine on the abdomen. Today, with advanced care, the shots are down to just four or five to prevent the onset of rabies, a deadly viral disease. But misconceptions surrounding what to do when bitten by a dog still linger.
“Many people continue to follow old remedies that are ineffective. Some apply erukkam paal, coffee powder, mud and cow dung on the dog bite. Some tie a piece of cloth above the wound thinking it will arrest the spread of infection. The only thing to do is wash the wound with soap under running water for 15 minutes. Antiseptic solution can then be applied, but medical help must be sought immediately,” said S. Raghunanthanan, professor of medicine, Madras Medical College (MMC) and Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (GH).
Globally, 55,000 people die every year due to rabies. Sixty per cent of these are aged 15 years or below. In India, rabies causes 20,000 deaths every year.
At GH, 95 per cent of animal bite cases are dog bites. The hospital receives 50 to 70 cases of animal bites a day, Dr. Raghunanthanan said.
To prevent rabies, four to five doses of anti-rabies vaccine are administered on the 0, 3, 7, 14 and 28 days of a bite.
“We abandoned the 16-dose vaccine years ago. The present vaccine is safe and it’s the only way to prevent rabies. Rabies is fatal, but 100 per cent preventable. People should not wait to see if the dog lives for 10 days as is done in many cases,” Dr. Raghunanthanan added.
In a study undertaken among school and college students and the adult population in the community, MMC’s Institute of Community Medicine found that among school students, 37.3 per cent thought that rabies could spread through an animal’s licks.
While 42.8 per cent knew rabies was a killer disease, only 15 per cent knew that it cannot be cured. In the community, 33 per cent were aware of the mode of spread and 47 per cent knew it was a killer disease.
No treatment is required if a person feeds or touches a rabies-affected dog or if the dog licks intact skin, said Dr. Raghunanthanan.
“If the dog causes a skin injury or licks the mucus membrane like in the mouth, eyes and nose, vaccination is must. If it bites and a muscle is injured, then vaccination and immunoglobulin should be administered,” he said. He stressed the need for patients to complete the course even if the wound healed.
GH Dean V. Kanagasabai said the government has allotted Rs. 10.5 crore this financial year for the purchase of anti-rabies vaccines for government hospitals in the State. Of this, GH gets Rs. 10 lakh.
On World Rabies Day on Saturday, the hospital has organised an exhibition consisting of posters near the outpatient block. The exhibition will be open between 7.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m.