It’s the Easter season and interestingly the government is going on a “doggy cleansing” operation that is expected to last till 2021.

So far more than 15,000 strays have been killed in the last 20 months – no thanks to the rabies scare.

But what triggered this “knee jerk” reaction when we discovered that the state’s first rabies victim had succumbed to the disease in 2017 in the Balai Ringin area?

Unprepared for this “pandemic” so it seems, our authorities adopted the wait-and-see attitude until more people began to succumb to the disease.

By April, 16 people had died and the panic button had been pressed.

The order of the day? Kill every dog you see!

So the headline in the New Sarawak Tribune “It’s the dogs or us” was interesting!

Strange enough some people came up with the formula that if you kill every dog you see, you can solve the rabies problem!

It doesn’t matter if the dog had a collar or a licence number attached to it, or that the animal had been immunised – if it is found peeing in front of its owner’s premises or defecating, just shoot the pariah!

But we can’t blame the authorities because they just don’t know how to handle the situation. So our anti-rabies “desperados” turned to the federal government for help.

Strangely enough Malaya still has its fair share of rabies and they too have not solved their problem.

In fact rabies first occurred in Malaya in 1882 and since 1924 a record of cases of the spread of rabies to humankind, have been kept.

Malaya was declared “rabies free” in 1954 and despite the wholesale destruction of strays have always popped up when least expected.

Over the recent years it has occurred in the northern states of Perlis, Kedah and Kelantan, which shares the border with Thailand – the source of dog-carrying rabies.

In July 2017, rabies spread to Kuala Sepetang in Perak prompting veterinarian Dr Natasha Lee to say the public need not worry.

Dr Lee, who is also an animal welfare consultant, urged the public to stay calm, especially those blaming strays for the spread of the disease and should not take it out on the strays.

Sharing Dr Lee’s sentiment was Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Selangor chairman Christine Chin, who advised the public against panicking over unverified stories of rabies creeping into their dwellings.

Referring to social media reports that dogs were being shot and killed in Kuala Selangor she said: “There is no need to be overly anxious about catching stray dogs in Selangor. Culling should only be carried out as a practical measure, and based on evidence of a rabies outbreak.”

Chin also warned that the unauthorised culling of animals would violate Section 30 of the Animal Welfare Act 2015. Under the Act, offenders can be fined between RM20,000 and RM100,000 or jailed up to three years or both.

Former DVS director-general Tan Sri Ahmad Mustaffa Babjee said Peninsular Malaysia was technically rabies-free, adding that occurrences were due to unforeseen circumstances.

“We would be free of rabies for 10 years and then there would be one reported case. Sometimes free for five, or two years, and then a case would emerge,” he said.

The interesting part of the rabies outbreak in Sarawak was the perception that if you are bitten by a dog with rabies, God forbid, you are condemned.

A veterinarian expert said in a front page story that if you were bitten by a rabies-infected dog, you had a 0.1 percent chance of survival.

However, there are sources, including those in the SOS (Save Our Strays) who beg to differ! SOS says that quick action in seeking medical attention may prevent the virus from entering the blood stream.

Apparently, if you washed the wound after a dog bite, there would be 99.9 per cent chance of survival.

I googled and found that there are facts the public must know; that rabies is one of the oldest diseases and that it kills more than 50,000 people annually, especially in Third World countries.

But when you consider that our neighbours in Singapore does not have rabies, is there something we can learn from the republic?

According to foreign experts, if treatment such as “rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP)” is administered before the virus enters the nervous system, the spread of rabies can be prevented.

Despite its severity, there is still much the public and even health professionals need to know about rabies.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rabies exists in every continent except Antarctica.

In the United States, there were 5,865 cases of laboratory-confirmed rabies cases in animals reported to the CDC in 2013.

According to the CDC, you can protect yourself against rabies. “If you are bitten by a dog, wash the bite wound immediately with soap and water (and iodine if available and you are not allergic); promptly seek medical attention.

“The doctor may also prescribe antibiotics and a tetanus vaccination depending on the nature of the bite and the circumstances of the bitten person.”

I’ve been bitten by a scorpion, a nest of hornets and the poisonous “ikan semilang” in my younger days and by dogs many times! And I’m happy that I survived.

Of course you can also prevent rabies by getting pre-exposure rabies vaccinations – three doses of vaccine given in the deltoid area over the course of three to four weeks.

With the rabies outbreak in Sarawak, some sources say it is best you get your anti-rabies shot lest you are prepared to die.

Dog lovers say that of the 15,000 strays killed, culled or euthanised over the last 20 months, about 80 percent were domesticated animals that had escaped from their owners’ premises or had been abandoned.

Rabies first started in remote Balai Ringin on the Kalimantan border in July 2017 and was believed to have been brought into the country by illegal immigrants.

According to newspaper reports, “thousands” of people are being bitten by dogs every year putting the fear of God into the lives of ordinary Sarawakians.

But I wonder whether the “thousands” had made police reports or that this is an intelligent estimate?

I am concerned with the situation and fear that if we wrongly eradicate strays that are pets instead of the rabies carriers, then it is a great injustice to the innocent canines.

Apart from that, SOS believes that if we kill strays that are not rabies carriers, then we will open the door to an invasion of the culprits waiting to take over their place.

When going to the source of the disease and start killing the hunting dogs belonging to natives living along the porous Indonesian border, we will be depriving the poor farmers and hunters of an important source of food.

Who can blame me for raising the issue because I am after all, a life member of the SSPCA who for 30 years have been sworn to protect the rights of man’s best friend!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.