By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
Apai Sutti, director-general of the Department of Livestock Development, announced at a press conference that authorities had set a target to vaccinate 10 million dogs and cats by September and infected animals would be euthanised to prevent the spread of the disease.
As of yesterday, the department’s real-time rabies infection report showed 388 confirmed rabies cases since January 1, which was 182 cases higher than the same period last year.
Rabies had been considered under control in previous years with only 102 confirmed cases during all of 2013.
The biggest cause of this year’s rabies outbreak is the immunisation rate of dogs and cats, which has dropped below 80 per cent. That lapse was apparently due to local authorities’ confusion about who was responsible for vaccinations in 2015, which allowed the disease to spread.
According to an earlier report, Dr Teerawat Mohchuta, director of the Thai Red Cross Society’s Division of Infectious Diseases, had noticed an increasing infection rate in April last year. However, yesterday’s press conference was the first official notice of the recent outbreak by the department.
Apai said the infection rate had started to drop, although it had been high in recent months. Due to the success of disease control measures, there were only 26 provinces that still had active quarantine zones, down from the previous 37 provinces, he added.
“This year authorities have ordered 10 million doses of rabies vaccine to immunise the population of 10 million dogs and cats in the country by September. We are sure that we can vaccinate more than 80 per cent of dogs and cats and prevent rabies from spreading,” Apai said.
“This year we have more than enough vaccine to deter the rabies infection. Normally only around 7 million to 8 million doses of rabies vaccine are registered in the country each year and we have already trained 37,000 local volunteers how to vaccinate animals.”
He added that in addition to the intensive rabies immunisations, the department also prioritised control of the dog and cat populations. Officers and volunteers were working on sterilising stray animals to meet this year’s goal of sterilising 200,000.
The department estimated that there were 1 million dogs and cats that did not have owners and it was the responsibility of local authorities to immunise and control the population.
“Animal population controls and quarantines are important measures to stop the rabies outbreak. The infected animals will have to be exterminated and a suspect animal will have to be quarantined for at least six months, but we are not going to take the extreme measure such as culling all stray animals,” Apai said.
He added that officers faced difficulties controlling rabies, as some people who regularly fed stray dogs and cats neglected to vaccinate the animals and opposed their sterilisation.
Nevertheless, he said authorities still had a commitment to eliminate rabies by 2020. He added that currently there were 21 “green” provinces, which had not had any reports of rabies infection in either humans or animals for at least two years.
To accomplish the elimination goal, all 77 provinces in Thailand will have to register green status within the next two years.