Anti-rabies campaign helps reduce its prevalence in Laikipia

Anti-rabies campaign

A veterinarian administers an anti-rabies jab to a dog at Jua Kali village in Laikipia East. The campaign which started in 2016 has seen the prevalence of the viral disease that is transmitted to humans by canines reduce by about 70 percent.

Photo credit: Mwangi Ndirangu I Nation Media Group

A campaign to eradicate rabies in Laikipia County launched seven years ago has seen the prevalence of the disease reduced by over 70 percent.

Records from the county’s health department show that the last rabies-related deaths were reported in 2013, when three people from Laikipia North succumbed to the viral disease.

In August 2014, a family of five from Maundu ni Meeri village in Laikipia North survived after being bitten by a rabid hyena that entered their homestead at night.

Tests carried out at the time by Kenya’s Zoonotic Diseases Department showed that the hyena had rabies and the bite victims were put under treatment immediately.

Rabies is one of the neglected tropical diseases that predominantly affects poor and vulnerable populations in remote rural areas.

According to the World Health Organization, about 2,000 people die of rabies in Kenya every year. Children under the age of 15 and communities in remote rural areas are at the highest risk.

The disease is transmitted through the saliva of infected mammals, usually through a bite. Once contracted, it is fatal in humans almost 100 percent.

In an effort to eradicate rabies in Kenya by 2030, the Mpala Research Centre partnered with the Laikipia County government in 2016 and launched an annual free mass vaccination of domestic cats and dogs, with 64,684 animals getting preventive jabs. 

About 20,000 more are expected to be vaccinated by the end of this year’s campaign early next month.

“In the last five weeks, we have covered more than 60 percent of the targeted area, having been to Laikipia North, parts of Laikipia West and now in Laikipia East sub-counties. It is costly to treat rabies in infected persons but it is easier to control the spread of the disease,” explained Dr Peter Mwai, the county director of veterinary services.

Anti-rabies

Dr Mwai, who is coordinating the anti-rabies campaign, said dogs are responsible for the transmission of 98 percent of the cases, but other animals should not be ignored as they could also be infected and pass on the disease to humans. He asked dog and cat owners to bring their animals for the free vaccination.

“The population of dogs and cats in the county is estimated to be 30,000. This year, we received some 20,000 vaccines from the Mpala Research Centre,” Dr Mwai said. 

“By vaccinating the dogs, we are also preventing the spread of the disease to other wild animals such hyenas, lions and wild dogs, all of which are found in the Laikipia plateau.”

Dog bites have also declined, according to health records at hospitals.

Confirmed cases of rabies among humans have not been documented over the years and that dog bites are treated as suspected cases of rabies and patients get appropriate medication, said George Macharia, the officer in charge of disease surveillance in Laikipia.

“Going by our records, annual reported cases of dog bites have reduced from a high of 1,544 in 2018 to 561 cases reported this year (2022). We attribute this to the annual rabies vaccination campaign that kicks off in October through December,” Mr Macharia added.

People bitten by animals should immediately and thoroughly wash the wound and receive human post-exposure vaccination.

The vaccine series – five vaccine doses delivered over a period of 28 days – can prevent the onset of the disease.

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