Second rabies outbreak in Phuentsholing in one year

In the aftermath of the first reported case of rabies earlier this year, health authorities have been grappling with a concerning development as they confirm the emergence of a second rabies outbreak in Phuentsholing. The discovery has put health officials on high alert, prompting swift and decisive action to prevent the further spread of the deadly virus.

On 25 July 2023, the second instance was found in a bull. According to the Regional Veterinary Officer at the scene, the bull was covered in numerous fractures and wounds when the Regional Veterinary Hospital and Epidemiology Centre in Phuentsholing received a call reporting that a bull had been struck by a vehicle. At first, it was assumed that the bull sustained the injuries due to the crash because it was in the middle of the road.

Later, it was discovered that the bull displayed all of the rabies’ clinical symptoms.

“After being treated, the bull suddenly began exhibiting all of the clinical indications of rabies, including bellowing, hostility, and fear. Additionally, the bull’s eyes were red and swollen. With the aid of thromde, we moved the bull to a safer location since we thought it might have rabies,” said Regional Veterinary Officer.

After the evacuation, the bull expired. The bull proved strongly positive for rabies after being examined for rabies-on-rabies antigen detection after it died.

Currently, the only species affected by rabies is bovine (cattle), and no dogs or cats are affected.

Until July 2023, six cases of rabies had been detected in Phuentsholing. However, the issue has been contained. In most of the cases, the rabid stray dogs and bulls were from across the border.

“The rabies in the bull was definitely transmitted by a rabid dog bite, and the bull belonged to a community across the border. As per our investigation, we found out that two cattle also came along with the rabid bull. Today, these two cattle are under observation and isolation under the custodianship of the thromde and regulated by the Bhutan Food and Drug Authority (BAFDA),” said the regional veterinary officer.

However, it is unsure whether the two cattle were bitten by a rabid dog.

It was said that the outbreak was due to the movement of stray animals across borders. It is mainly caused by unnotched dogs (dogs that are not vaccinated and sterilized).

It was informed that the Phuntsholing Thromde has completed hundred percent dog sterilization and vaccination.

As of today, no human case of rabies has been reported in Phuentsholing. However, there is a post-exposure profile of thirteen people who were involved in lifting and treating the bull on 25 July. The people are said to have had no open wounds in their bodies and had used protective gears to move the rabid bull.

The officer asks the public not to panic just because they were there at the place where the rabid bull was found.

He said, “Rabies is not an aerosol; you can only get it if you come in contact with the saliva of the rabid animals or if you are bitten by the rabid animals.”

Rabies virus is transmitted through direct contact (such as through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth) with saliva or brain or nervous system tissue from an infected animal. People usually get rabies from the bite of a rabid animal.

In order to control and prevent the spread of rabies, along with the Regional Veterinary Hospital and Epidemiology Centre, BAFDA, Phuentsholing Hospital coordinated a meeting with the Dzongkhag and Dungkhag administrations and RBP to coordinate across the border.

Thromde was advised to put stray animals in enclosures to reduce the risk of transmission. Similarly, the public was notified about the outbreak through relevant forums and authorities.

The Department of Livestock has started mass dog anti-rabies vaccinations, especially in high-risk villages such as Sampheling Gewog and Phuentsholing Gewog.

Mass anti-rabies vaccinations are carried out to build immunity across borders and prevent the spread of the disease. Since most of the rabid dogs are responsible for biting humans and other animals in the country.

Along with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, one health advocacy program is going to be conducted in high-risk areas.

“In order to contain, if any report comes of a suspected case, we will go there and confine the animal, putting it under isolation and observation. Similarly, if the public informs us of any dead carcass, we will collect and test for rabies and work accordingly as per the rabid control plan,” said the Regional Veterinary Officer.

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