Cross-border strays keep rabies alive in Malaysia, says expert

In an interview with Hakimie Amrie Hisamudin from FMT news portal, Associate Professor Dr Rafdzah Ahmad Zaki said “the main factor for the re-introduction of the rabies virus was the movement of infected stray dogs crossing the borders.”

She said statistics showed that most rabies cases in the Peninsula of Malaysia were reported in states bordering Thailand, where rabies was endemic. The outbreak in Perlis and Kedah were thought to have originated from Thailand through land-crossing and the outbreaks in Penang and Terengganu were linked to dogs brought by fishermen boats from Thailand.

In Sarawak, the source of the virus was traced to free-roaming dogs observed moving across the border with West Kalimantan.

Malaysia was declared free from rabies by the World Animal Health Organisation in 2013 with the last record of a human case in 1998 and a canine case in 1999.

However, a rabies outbreak occurred in July 2015 in Perlis, Kedah and Penang and then in June 2017, in Sarawak.

She said rabies could be prevented through dog management, border control, better public awareness, and improved access to cost-effective and high-quality rabies vaccines.

The most effective single measure to protect humans from rabies is through vaccination of dogs, however, the movement of the vaccination needs to cover at least 70% of the dog population.

Among the measures that can be instituted, is to improve border protection form entry of dogs either through legal or illegal means. The capacities of the veterinary services and human health services to support rabies prevention and control activities needs to be strengthened. This can include the integration of both animal and human surveillance systems.

Dr Rafdzah is a member of the Malaysia One Health University Network – MyOHUN. The concept of One Health in Malaysia aims to forge collaborations between academicians, professionals, scientists and communities across sectors with responsibility for health of humans, domestic animals and wildlife.

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