In his last few hours in that cold dreary blue-colored isolation room at San Lazaro Hospital, a five-year old boy was writhing and screaming in pain, his mouth parched dry but he was afraid of water. His pupils had become dilated and body twisted. His head bathed in sweat, he would suddenly turn ferocious, drooling with foam-like saliva, and behaving like a mad dog.
But instead of being able to console and spend their last moments with their child, his parents were even asked to leave him in the isolation room—for their own protection.
The child’s name was Gian Carlo “PoyPoy” Tomen. He died of rabies in 2008, just a day before Christmas.
A few months earlier, Poypoy was playing with a friend when the neighbor’s cocker spaniel scratched the back of his left shoulder. The attack left three long scratches on Poypoy’s back—scratches that were immediately treated with first aid by the dog’s owner who was an emergency room nurse. The wounds healed completely in a few days, and all that was left of these were white marks where the skin had broken.
Everyone thought Poypoy was going to be okay. That was their mistake.
Shortly after Poypoy’s death, his father Rex discovered a couple of things that could have saved his son’s life—first, the cocker spaniel had her last vaccination three years ago and that bites aren’t the only way to get rabies. Even the smallest wound or break on the skin—whether a bite or a scratch or even a lick on an open wound caused by a canine attack merits immediate professional attention.
In honor of Poypoy and the thousands who die (most of them children) of rabies, Rex became an advocate and put up the RabiesPoi.Org website to educate people about the dangers posed by man’s best friend.
Tomen relates, “We washed the wound and cleaned it with alcohol. The dog’s owner told us it was vaccinated for rabies so we didn’t bring our son to the doctor anymore. That was our mistake. Rabies can be fatal—everybody needs to know that,” he added.
Tomen was one of the speakers at the recent launch of the Department of Health’s “BiLiS Rabis,” a disease awareness campaign aligned to the Rabies Free Philippines Advocacy. The advocacy was also supported by GSK.
“Rabies is considered a neglected disease that is 100 percent fatal but also 100 percent preventable. Effective and safe medicines have been available for decades to prevent the disease in humans and animals,” DOH Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial told members of the mass media.
“Rabies is a virus that attacks the central nervous system that can lead to a serious illness and can lead to death if not addressed immediately. Rabies is most commonly transmitted through bites of rabid animals but it can also be transmitted through licks of rabid animals on existing scratches and wounds of individuals.”
BiLiS stands for the following:
• Bi – Bilisan ang paghugas ng sugat (wash the infected area)
• Li – Linisin ng alcohol (clean with alcohol)
• S – Sumangguni sa doktor ukol sa tamang pag-gamot ng sugat (consult a doctor)
Ubial said the advocacy not only promotes responsible pet ownership, but more importantly stresses the importance of early consultation when bitten by animals and timely administration of vaccines.
A total of 783,879 animal bites across the country were registered last year. This was 10 percent higher than in 2014 when the total number of animal bites was 683,802. Although there is an increment, it means more bites were reported instead of ignored. This is attributed to the improved surveillance and services, which enabled bite cases to seek treatment at established public Animal Bite Treatment Centers (ABTC) and/or private Animal Bite Centers. As of March 2016, there are a total of 486 ABTCs located all over the country, 32 of which are in Metro Manila.”
As prevention is always better than cure, Lestre Zapanta, the Pinoy Dog Whisperer, was also at the event to share some tips on how to deal with dogs to avoid being bitten:
1. Never pet strange dogs and don’t extend your hand because the dog will see this as a threat and it might bite you.
2. If you want to interact with a dog, squat sideways and wait for the dog to approach you.
3. Don’t disturb a dog while they are sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy or caring for puppies. Remember that a dog is scared, too, so don’t do anything that will make it feel you are a threat.
4. Be cautious around strange dogs and assume that a dog who doesn’t know you may see you as an intruder or a threat.
5. When confronted with a dog that may attack, DO NOT RUN. Resist the impulse to scream and run away. Instead stand still, keep your hands at your sides, and avoid eye contact with the dog. Once the dog loses interest in you, slowly back away until it is out of sight.
6. If you are a dog owner, have your dog vaccinated for rabies EVERY year. This could save lives, maybe even yours.
Pay attention to the dog’s body language. If you see the following signals: tensed body, stiff tail, pulled back head and/or ears, furrowed brow, eyes rolled so the whites are visible, yawning, flicking tongue, intense stare, it’s a good idea to have a safe amount of space between yourself and the dog.
As part of the rabies elimination campaign, DOH and DA, Bureau of Animal Industry (DA-BAI) declared a total of 41 provinces/areas “rabies-free” from 2008-2016.
The DOH, through the National Rabies Prevention and Control Program (NRPCP), in partnership with different agencies and local government units, continue to implement strategies and activities to respond to this public health problem. One strategy is the provision of Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) in all DOH-recognized ABTCs/ABCs, and Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) especially for high-risk individuals and students in high incidence zones. Meanwhile, PhilHealth, through its Animal Bite Treatment Package, defrays the cost of PEP treatment among all qualified members.
The DOH has lined up various advocacy campaigns to disseminate information about the illness and how to prevent it. The DOH also encourages pet owners to have household pets vaccinated at designated time periods. Lastly, the public is warned against approaching stray and possibly rabid animals and is reminded to immediately go to the nearest ABTCs/ABCs when needed.
“Be responsible, If you are a pet owner, make sure it has been vaccinated against rabies, and if you or someone you know is bit, scratched or licked by an animal make follow the BiLiS instructions, and immediately head to the nearest animal bite treatment center to have it checked and to have yourself vaccinated for rabies.” Secretary Ubial concluded.
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