When it comes to dog bites, quick action is crucial: wash the bitten area, disinfect with alcohol or antiseptic, and immediately consult a doctor. There should be no hesitation nor should you wait and wonder whether or not the bite will lead to rabies. It's simple, but the most effective first-aid treatment against rabies.
This is the message of the "BiLiS" campaign launched by the Department of Health in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and with the support of Glaxo SmithKline. "BiLiS" stands for “Bilisan ang paghugas ng sugat. Linisin ng alcohol. Sumangguni sa doktor ukol sa tamang paggamot ng sugat.”
From 2010 to 2015, human rabies caused 1,463 deaths in the Philippines, according to DOH records. This year, 180 lives were already taken by the fatal disease. Children below 15 years old composed at least 1/3 of deaths from human rabies in the Philippines based on World Health Organization (WHO) data. “Sila yung malikot, sila yung parating nasa labas ng bahay, sila yung may constant exposure,” says Department of Health (DOH) spokesperson Dr. Eric Tayag who was present during the launch.
Rabies is a viral disease of mammals, says Dr. Emelinda Lopez, head of the Animal Health & Welfare Division of the Bureau of Animal Industry. Dogs make up 98 percent of rabies cases in the Philippines; the other two percent are from cats, she says. Symptoms of the disease can be immediately noticeable by pet owners. “[Rabies] affects the central nervous system. Nagkaka-changes in the behavior of the animal,” adds Dr. Lopez.
Once a rabid dog bites a human, the infection will make its way to the person’s brain, says Dr. Tayag. Immediate attention and treatment is crucial to prevent this. “Mas malapit sa utak [ang kagat], mas maiksi ang incubation period.”
Once rabies develops -- hydrophobia or an aversion to water is the most common and well-known symptom that it has progressed -- the disease is almost always fatal. Once you have it, there is nothing much the doctor can do -- there is still no available cure.
“Rabies is considered a neglected disease that is 100 percent fatal but 100 percent preventable. Effective and safe medicines have been available for decades to prevent the disease in humans and animals,” says DOH Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial.
Sec. Ubial, Dr. Tayag and Dr. Lopez provide concrete tips to prevent rabies in humans and animals:
1. Practice responsible pet ownership. “Make sure that the dogs are healthy by giving them food, shelter and even proper grooming. And, pinaka-importante -- regular vaccination of dogs from rabies,” says Dr. Lopez. Rabies shots for pets are given for free by the government. Ask your local barangay office or health center for a vaccination schedule.
In addition, house pets should be kept indoors as much as possible. Pet dogs contract rabies when they come near other dogs, like strays, for example, who are already infected, says Sec. Ubial.
2. Act quickly once bitten. Dr. Tayag says, “Pag kayo po ay may exposure sa aso, pag na-scratch o na-kagat, ‘yan po ay potential na baka magkaron kayo ng rabies. Ang desisyon ay hindi tanungin ang sarili niyo kung kayo ay may rabies o hindi. Ang desisyon niyo ay BiLiS.” The size of the dog does not matter, the three added. Whether the dog is small or large, when it has rabies, you can get infected when scratched or bitten.
3. Get treatment. Treatment includes getting shots of rabies vaccine after being bitten or scratched by an infected animal. The shots will stop the infection from spreading. Post-exposure rabies vaccination shots are available in public and private Animal Bite Treatment Centers. There are 486 in the Philippines, and 32 are located in Metro Manila. Click here to see the nearest one to your home.