More than 300 people died of rabies in South China's Guangdong Province last year, the highest number in a decade, local authorities said yesterday.
"The death toll was 306 last year, up 24.9 per cent from 2004," Huang Fei, deputy director of Guangdong Provincial Health Department, told China Daily.
Departmental records showed that 330,000 people saw doctors for rabies, 500,000 people took rabies vaccines, and at least 1.5 million people were bitten or scratched by dogs and cats in Guangdong last year. Most victims were from rural areas in western and eastern parts of the province, Huang said.
Guangdong Department of Health has designated rabies as one of the five epidemic diseases for priority control and prevention.
Huang said the government would strengthen their control force in high-risk areas.
"Administration, immunization, and destruction of infected animals will be further integrated," Huang said.
All dogs not immunized from rabies living within a 2.5-kilometre radius of an epidemic area must be destroyed within one week, Huang said.
"As living standards keep increasing, more people feed dogs, and this increased contact means more chance of infection," Guo Xiaofeng, a professor at South China Agriculture University (SCAU), told China Daily.
The most direct way to control rabies is to give dogs regular vaccinations, Guo said.
However, control efforts have met obstacles in rural areas.
Many owners do not want to inoculate their dogs, as they are unaware of the importance. Furthermore, the large number of strays makes vaccination an impossible task.
Because of this, Guo said government education efforts in rural areas would be very important.
Zhu Xingquan, professor of parasitology at SCAU, said the current dog registration fee was another problem.
"The current charge is far from the reach of most dog owners," he said.
At the annual meeting of the municipal committee of Guangzhou earlier this year, he proposed a reduction in the dog license fee from the current 10,000 yuan (US$1,250) to 1,000 yuan (US$125), with the subsequent annual fees reduced from 6,000 yuan (US$740) to 500 yuan (US$62).
Given the huge amount of money most dog owners, especially those in rural areas, choose to raise their dogs illegally.
This situation definitely raises the risk of getting rabies, Zhu said.
Rabies cannot be cured in animals or people once the infection has taken hold, but it can be prevented in some ways, according to Luo Huiming, a chief doctor of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of Guangdong.
"Dog feeders should have a veterinarian vaccinate their dogs once a year, keep dogs on leashes when outdoors, and report any animal they suspect of having rabies to the local public health office."
Any animal bite that breaks the skin should be cleaned and disinfected immediately, and reported immediately to the local department of health, he added.
According to the Ministry of Health, 2,660 people died of rabies in 2004 nationwide.
Source: China Daily