Field Report - Rabies emergency in Goa

Post by
Frederic Lohr
February 12th 2015

After launching the Mission Rabies App in Sri Lanka, our Epidemiology and Research Manager Andy departed for our Goa project. His field report shows once again, how important our ongoing work there is.

"Today was one of those days that made me proud to be a part of Mission Rabies and particularly of the team here in Goa. In the early afternoon we received phone calls on our rabies hotline with reports of a dog behaving strangely and biting other dogs in a rural village. It sounded typical of the more recognisable ‘furious’ signs of rabies and warranted further investigation.

The team and kit were still ready to go after a busy morning vaccinating and we were soon on the road, driving almost an hour in the direction of the reports. The atmosphere in the back of the pickup truck was one of anticipation and I was already thinking about what we might encounter and the risks of meeting a rabid dog in the open. On arrival we were met by a few villagers who recounted similar stories to the original report and said the dog in question was brown – a big help when the vast majority of the local dogs are a sandy brown colour! The village was beautiful, with palm trees and banana plants shooting up between the ochre brick houses, but the idyllic setting was shattered by the knowledge that somewhere lurked an unpredictable, aggressive animal potentially carrying the deadly rabies virus.

Our four experienced dog catchers began to patrol the streets with butterfly nets in hand and senses alert. Suddenly it was as if someone had fired a starting pistol and the team were off, running flat-out through the streets. The dogs in yards and along the roadside started barking at the strange yellow intruders to their town, but the catchers weren’t interested in these dogs. The team split at a fork in the road and I kept close on the heels of Rahul and Ganesh. Suddenly the pace slowed to a stealthy walk as we ducked behind a wall bordering one particular yard. There was a dog close to us which was broadcasting our presence with an incessant ranting bark, but behind him a brown dog ambled aimlessly away from us – it didn’t fit in. It wondered out the back of the yard and as Ganesh followed, Rahul circled ahead to intersect its path. As the dog registered Ganesh approaching behind, Rahul pounced from a bush dropping his net over it. The dog’s croaked a hoarse bark and although he quickly settled in the net he continued to bite mindlessly at the material.

Several villagers confirmed it was the same dog behaving strangely for the last three days and we took him to a local shelter for isolation and monitoring. He continued to show typical signs of rabies and given the history and clinical signs, rabies was our primary diagnosis. Rabies has a practically 100% fatality rate and the suffering encountered by victims as the disease progresses is a serious welfare concern and so the dog was euthanized on humane grounds. An in-house test was positive for rabies virus and samples were submitted to the laboratory for confirmation diagnosis. It would be impossible to tell how many other dogs had been exposed whilst the dog was infectious and so we returned to village to vaccinate as many dogs as possible in an effort to prevent any further infections developing in the coming weeks. In total we vaccinated xxx dogs in the area around where the dog was caught and went from door to door informing villagers to be vigilant for more cases and what to do in the event of further signs, as well as checking that no one had been bitten by the dog.

We finished as the sun was setting, and we returned home with a huge sense of achievement as we bobbed along in the back of the truck, knowing that this team had done something wholly good for the community and potentially saved the lives of people, children and dogs from a terrible disease. One less rabid dog roaming the streets and freshly vaccinated dogs protecting the homes around them."

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