New Delhi: Beware of stray dogs! An estimated 19,000 people die every year due to rabies in India, accounting for nearly 35 per cent of such deaths worldwide.
According to data available with the World Health Organisation (WHO), nearly 55,000 people succumb to rabies mostly caused by dog bites. Of this, Asia accounts for 31,000 deaths.
The majority of the cases were reported from India followed by Bangladesh with about 2,000 deaths.
The global health watchdog also said that an estimated 10 million are treated each year after being bitten by dogs. Of this, 1.8 million receive the treatment in India alone.
"Since over 90 per cent of the rabies cases are due to dog bite, what India needs to do is to vaccinate dogs. The dog population in India is much higher as compared to any other country and the canines should be sterilised to curb the growth,” said WHO chief spokesman H K Pandey.
He said that while people do not hesitate to feed dogs, they hardly bother to take responsibility for them.
"As a result you can find a large number of stray dogs in India. Loving animals is a great thing but they should not be left on the roads to bite others," he added.
"Lack of awareness about the disease is the primary reason behind so many deaths. Not only people but also many doctors in rural India are not very much aware of the disease and symptoms,” said chief medical officer Rajender Singh of Maharishi Valmiki Infectious Diseases Hospital, Delhi's only anti-rabies hospital.
”Unless a patient is diagnosed in time, the chance of his survival goes down drastically. Once the clinical symptoms starts showing, the chance of survival becomes too less,” he added.
An expert said that hydrophobia, aerophobia and tickling in the wound are the most common symptoms, which occur in rabies patients within 30-90 days of the bite. All warm-blooded animals including at, dog, jackal, camel and bats can cause this fatal disease.
"But patients can be saved if they are admitted to the hospital in time," Singh said.
Scores of people succumb to the disease in New Delhi every year, but the capital lacks sufficient medical infrastructure to deal with it.
There are only two beds at the Valmiki hospital to treat rabies patients from the capital and surrounding areas.
The hospital treats more than 200 patients a year from New Delhi as well as neighbouring townships.