A vet prepares vaccines for Anti-Rabica Vaccine Day for dogs and cats in 2020 in Mexico City. Gerardo Vieyra (Getty Images)
The epidemiological notice issued by the Mexican government following the emergence of 12 possible cases of rabies in the states of Sonora and Oaxaca has put renewed focus on the disease that last month killed two Oaxacan minors and left a woman in serious condition in Nayarit ins hospitalized. The veterinarian at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Francisco Monroy, considers the communication from the health authorities pertinent and defends that eradication of the disease in Mexico is “unlikely”. “Due to weather problems and the fauna we have, we are nowhere near rabies eradication,” he concludes in a phone conversation with this newspaper.
“The fact that there are so many cases in such a short time tells us something,” reflects the scientist, who believes that the authorities should review their care methods after the events. Of the 12 cases reported in the last few days, nine were due to contact with the saliva of an infected dog in Bahía de Kino (Sonora) and the other three to an attack by a bat in Oaxaca. Although the dog’s case has left a larger number of potential victims, Monroy believes the problem of rabies development centers around wild animals. “We use practically the same vaccine as for dogs and cats, but the problem is management. How do you go about vaccinating wild animals when they are already hard to find? It would be necessary to capture them, and all without causing them any harm or stress,” he explains. The Mexican authorities, says the scientist, are trying to identify nuclei from animals in which rabies is present in order to carry out more numerous vaccinations.
In recent weeks, bat attacks in the small rural community of Palo de Lima, also in Oaxaca, have caused the deaths of two other minors. Monroy considers the character of the animal “counterproductive” “demonized”: “Most species of bats are completely harmless and indispensable, they generally do not get into rabies transmission circuits,” opines Monroy, who says the mammal helps with pollination and pest control. “We don’t know, but the reality is that we’re penetrating the systems of these species and exposing ourselves to viruses,” he says. Stressing that the cases that have emerged due to wildlife attack are occurring in remote populations, he believes authorities should pay “timely” attention to these places.
The Doctor Aurelio Valdivieso hospital in Oaxaca (Oaxaca state) when the rabies patients were hospitalized in December.Carolina Jiménez Mariscal (Cuartoscuro)
In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Mexico had eliminated dog-borne human rabies as a public health problem. Monroy sees “a little confusion” in this announcement, which even some colleagues have gotten themselves into. “The WHO statement was not about eradicating the disease. The difference between a disease-free area and eradication has even confused my colleagues, who have come to the conclusion that dogs no longer need to be vaccinated,” he affirms, claiming that it is crucial to keep vaccination campaigns up and running to put castration of pets to avoid the appearance of stray dogs and cats.”The status of the WHO is a recognition of the work done in recent years, but not to stop but to continue with this work,” he concludes.The announcement that the animal tested positive for rabies in Bahía de Kino prompted the Sonora Department of Health to provide 1,815 anti-rabies doses.
Monroy explains that in the event of an attack by a rabid animal, there are two essential steps to take that “make the difference between life and death”: Washing the wound with plenty of soap and water — this can reduce viral loads, reducing the risk by 99% %—; and go to a health center to get the vaccine. In other cases, the scientist points out that a hyperimmune serum containing antibodies against the virus can be used.
Between 2010 and 2019, there were 13 deaths related to wild animal-borne rabies in Mexico, according to official figures from the Department of Health. The use of millions of rabies vaccines in dogs and cats helped reduce the number of human infections from these animals from 9,049 in 1990 to no positive reports in dogs in 2018 and 2019. If rabies is confirmed in one of the nine people close to the infected dog in Bahía de Kino, the first case transmitted from this animal species to humans in four years would be reported.
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