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Threat of Rabies
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September 8 is the first World Rabies Day initiated by the Alliance for Rabies Control and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US and co-sponsored by the World Health Organization.


It is estimated that 55,000 people die every year from rabies, an average of one death every 10 minutes. And 10 million people receive anti-rabies inoculations in Asia and Africa following attacks by dogs.


This special day means a great deal to China, where the incidence rate of rabies has been increasing in recent years because of the rapid increase in the number of pet dogs.


As a matter of fact, the situation is serious. The average dog vaccination rate in the country is less than 10 percent, far lower than the 75 percent coverage that is considered safe by world standards.


There were 3,278 reported cases of rabies in 2006. In February this year, 145 deaths from rabies were reported and the figure jumped to 276 in July. The death rate from rabies is the highest among major infectious diseases in recent years.


The rapid increase of urban residents who keep pets but do not vaccinate them is the primary reason why the incidence and death rate from rabies is high.


It is estimated that the total number of pet dogs is 100 million nationwide and Beijing alone had more than 534,000 registered pet dogs up to July this year. If the unregistered ones are taken into account, the figure could be more than 1 million in the capital city alone.


We are caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, local governments charge fees for the registration of pet dogs in order to control their number and avoid the problems of sanitation and rabies. On the other, a number of residents do not register their dogs to evade the fee. As a result, the government does not know whether unregistered dogs have been vaccinated. That poses a serious threat of possible rabies.


Another problem is that many do not keep their dogs on a leash when walking them. The law stipulates that anyone who does not put their dogs on a leash will be fined, but there are not enough police officers to enforce the law. This increases the possibility of people being bitten by dogs.


We need to impress upon dog owners they must vaccinate their pets and put them on a leash in public places for the safety of others.


(China Daily September 8, 2007)

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