Editorials

Rabies still poses a threat

The recent death of two men from rabies is a reminder that the disease is still rampant abroad. Both men, in their 60s, were bitten by dogs in the Philippines. The first man, from Kyoto, died on Nov. 17, and the second man, from Yokohama, died on Dec. 7. Sadly, they would have lived had they gotten vaccinations after being bitten.

In Japan, the scourge of rabies has been almost forgotten. The last domestic infection occurred in 1954. The last infection abroad involving a Japanese occurred in 1970 when a man was bitten by a dog in Nepal and died after returning to Japan.

The incubation period of rabies is one to three months and once symptoms appear, the death rate is almost 100 percent. Almost all mammals can be carriers of the rabies virus. Therefore if travelers are bitten by mammals abroad, they should immediately receive rabies vaccinations at local hospitals. If travelers plan to stay for a lengthy period in remote areas, they might consider getting vaccinated before they leave Japan.

Worldwide, only Japan, Britain and part of Scandinavia have not reported rabies for many years. According to the World Health Organization, 55,000 people died of rabies worldwide in 2004 and more than 10 million people received rabies vaccinations after being bitten. That same year, India saw 17,000 deaths and the Philippines 250. In 2003, about 2,000 people died from rabies in China.

In Japan, the law for prevention of rabies went into effect in 1950. It requires people who keep dogs to register them and vaccinate them. Only about half of Japan’s estimated 12 million dogs are registered, so it is logical to think that the number of vaccinated dogs is small. Pet lovers must be aware of their social responsibility, irrespective of the types of animals they keep. The overnment should strengthen quarantines of imported animals. To protect themselves against malaria, dengue fever, West Nile fever, bird flu, rabies and other infectious diseases, people going abroad should be wary of mosquitoes, birds and mammals.