Two rabies deaths instil fear, concern among public in Kerala

Rafi suffered injuries to his face when attacked by a wild cat in Nilamel on May 22.
Representational image ( Express Illustrations )
Representational image ( Express Illustrations )

KOLLAM/THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Ringing alarm bells, the state has reported two suspected rabies deaths within a week. It is particularly worrisome because one of the victims had received the vaccine, prompting doubts about its efficacy in preventing the disease.

The first incident involved Mohammad Rafi, a 48-year-old tapping worker from Kollam. He was bitten by a wild cat in Nilamel two weeks ago. Despite receiving anti-rabies vaccination, he tragically passed away. The presence of rabies infection was later confirmed through testing samples at the State Institute of Animal Diseases (SIAD). In another incident, Stefin V Pereira, a 49-year-old resident of Anjuthengu in  Thiruvananthapuram, died after suffering a scratch from a stray dog while feeding it.  

There could be multiple reasons why patients die even after taking the vaccine,  said health expert Dr Amar Fettle.

“Depending on the category and location of the bite, the dosage of the vaccine, the transmission of the virus, and the individual’s health condition, a person may still become infected. While the vaccine is effective for the majority of people, its efficacy is influenced by these factors,” he said.  He further noted that external factors like the manufacturing process and storage conditions can also impact the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Rafi suffered injuries to his face when attacked by a wild cat in Nilamel on May 22. He received rabies vaccination at the primary health centre. Rafi developed a high fever on June 10 and was admitted to Government Medical College Parippally on June 12. Suspecting rabies infection, the officials subsequently transferred him to Medical College Thiruvananthapuram. He died on June 14. “Now, family members and locals are worried about the potential spread of rabies,” Shylaja Beevi, a ward member of Nilamel Village said.

Stefin, a dog-lover had returned from Bengaluru to care for her ailing brother. On  June 9, Stefin fainted in the hospital and was subsequently admitted to the medical college. Doctors suspect rabies as she began exhibiting symptoms on the same day.  Despite being shifted to the intensive care unit, Stefin passed away on June 11.

The authorities in Anchuthengu panchayat have increased surveillance at the home of the victim. “There are approximately 10 to 11 dogs at the residence. We are waiting for the postmortem report. Two tests relating to rabies came out negative and one more test result is pending,” V Laiju, president of Anchuthengu panchayat said. He further emphasized that if the dogs were infected with rabies, they would have likely succumbed to the disease by now.

The consecutive deaths caused by rabies have instilled fear and concern among the public. To address the rising number of dog attacks and rabies cases in the state, the government has taken a proactive step by partnering with Mission Rabies, a  global NGO dedicated to the efficient management of stray dogs. These initiatives are set to begin in September. 

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