Rabies has become one of the biggest public health risks facing China, with more than 2,400 people killed each year, the Ministry of Health has warned.
The nation is second to only India for the highest rate of infection, the ministry said in a report on rabies prevention and control issued yesterday.
A fatal disease that affects the nervous system, rabies is usually transferred via animal bites and causes 55,000 deaths a year, mostly in Asia and Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
In China, most infections were caused by dog bites, said the ministry report, which added that on average more than 40 million people on the mainland were bitten by animals, mainly canines, every year.
China has 75 million dogs but less than 20 percent have been vaccinated against rabies, according to official statistics.
Studies during the last five years showed rabies occurred most frequently in highly populated areas and South China, the report said, with more than 60 percent of cases reported in areas including the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region and the provinces of Guizhou, Guangdong, Hunan and Sichuan.
Victims were usually male, younger than 15 years old or older than 50, and lived in poor rural communities.
Human rabies infections were brought under control with a national vaccination program between 1990 and 1996, when only 159 cases were reported, said experts. However, cases have been on the rise since 2001, with more than 3,200 recorded in 2006.
The spike is down to increases in the surveillance and dog population, as well as poor public awareness, said the report.
A ministry poll showed 50 percent of rural respondents did not know rabies had an almost 100-percent mortality rate, while only 35 percent said they would seek medical treatment after suffering an animal bite.
The report said the ministry aims to improve its rabies control program by increasing epidemic surveillance and enhance interaction local and national between authorities.
In May, more than 40,000 dogs were killed in Hanzhong, Shaanxi province, to reduce the threat of rabies.
(China Daily September 28, 2009)