Monday, February 27, 2012

Rabies on the rise in Mérida and environs

Growing problem of stray dogs has local health authorities concerned

*Updated Feb. 12, 2013*
Mérida, Yucatán -
Mérida, together with its surrounding towns and outlying communities, suffers from a severe overpopulation of unclaimed dogs. They're referred to here as perros callejeros, or street (stray) dogs. Even many canines which are fortunate to have owners who feed and shelter them probably never see a vet. It's an unhealthy situation both for the animals and the humans who live in close proximity.

A local news service reports this morning that several new cases of rabies have been detected in strays in a comisaría (village) just north of the city. In one case nine members of a family had contact with the animal's saliva, so all will have to undergo treatment. Authorities say there are at least 80 stray dogs in the community, and several people have been attacked in recent weeks. In tourist areas such as the beach town of Progreso, 20 miles north of Mérida, strays are periodically rounded up and euthanized, usually resulting in a public outcry. The dogs loiter near beaches, waiting for fallen scraps or the charity of a passerby.

As if rabid dogs were not enough, a local trade in unapproved or bogus rabies vaccines compounds the problem, say authorities. Unlicensed vendors pass door to door peddling medicinas caninas, some of which don't meet laboratory specifications and strengths and others of which are simply worthless to prevent infection in domestic animals.

Rabies is a disease which is usually 100% fatal if not dealt with promptly. But in 2004 an American teenager who contracted the illness while handling a bat was successfully treated long after exposure, by being placed in an induced coma for several weeks. She survived with minimal permanent side effects following 76 days of a hospital regimen known as the Milwaukee Protocol.

Experts say that that the flu-like rabies symptoms typically appear within twelve weeks of exposure, but in some cases they have been delayed for as long as two years.

Feb. 12, 2013 - Rabies, regrettably, is back in the local news. A veterinarian has reported to state health authorities the case of a recently treated dog, which died after presenting common symptoms of the disease. Blood tests verified that the animal was indeed rabid, despite the fact that its owners claimed to have regularly vaccinated it. Now they'll have to be vaccinated. A state health official told news services that "the case is strange," since rabies have not been encountered in domesticated animals here for many years, except in those instances where the animal was bitten or injured by one known to be rabid - typically a wild species. Volunteers are assisting state workers by going door to door in neighborhoods near the family's home in northeast Mérida, to check for other cases of pets which have shown symptoms. The goal is to "barricade" the disease and prevent an outbreak.

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