Declare I. Norte as national “rabies free province” eyed

The Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte (PGIN) through the Provincial Rabies Control Council (PRCC), in partnership with the Provincial Veterinary Office (PVO) and international organization Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), has eradicated rabies cases for the past two years, and intends to seek for a national “rabies free province” declaration within this year.

Rabies is a viral disease that causes acute inflammation of the brain in humans and warm-blooded animals, with dogs being the most commonly involved. Early signs include fever and tingling at the bite site, usually followed by violent excitability, a fear of water, paralysis in some parts of the body, or loss of consciousness. Once symptoms appear, the disease is nearly fatal. They usually show one to three months after the bite.

A rabies free area refers to places with no confirmed human or animal rabies case or indigenously acquired infection by a lyssavirus at any time in the previous two years. Data presented during the PRCC Quarterly Meeting last February 15 show that from nearly 20 canine rabies cases in 2011, cases of both human and canine rabies in Ilocos Norte have been at zero standstill since 2014.

PRCC’s efforts have included mass dog vaccination and registration, which at present has 58% coverage throughout the province with 36,745 dogs vaccinated and 63,815 dogs registered.

In July 2015, they held consultative meetings with public utility vehicle (PUV) operators to strengthen border control management regarding the transportation of animals. Dr. Sarah Jayme, GARC country director, shared that the selling of dog meat or live dogs to be used for food is now penalized by up to Php100,000.

An upcoming strategy is early childhood intervention (ECI) which has been piloted in daycare centers around Ilocos Norte in partnership with the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU). It is set for official implementation until March.

According to Jayme, some Metro Manila schools have also decided to come up with similar programs after observing its introduction to the province.

In the works is a search for Best Implementers on Rabies and Control Program to be conducted among Ilocos Norte local government units (LGUs). Evaluation is set to be done by August 2016 with awarding tentatively scheduled for September 28, World Rabies Day.

However, while rabies cases are down, PVO remains concerned by the number of stray or loose dogs wandering around certain tourist spots in Ilocos Norte, posing a health and safety hazard to visitors and locals alike. They enlisted the help of 565 Bantay Rabies sa Barangay Volunteers (BRBV) in 2015 for widespread monitoring of such cases.

Presently, there are 1,063 recruited BBRV in the province, with 173 in Badoc, Burgos, Dingras, Pagudpud, Pasuquin, Pinili, and Solsona trained as vaccinators.

In a meeting last year with Governor Imee R. Marcos, GARC, and their sponsorship partner UBS Optimus Foundation, Marcos had suggested the creation of a barangay primer to ensure that even after changes in leadership, barangay officials will be equipped with sufficient knowledge on how to handle animal bite cases and loose pets among their constituents. The primer is due to be outlined and drafted by next month.

Regarding everyday prevention of animal bites, Jayme advises residents to care for their pets properly and ensure that they are kept from stressful situations such as exposure to hot daytime temperatures or confinement to a leash or cage all day, which are also animal welfare issues.

She emphasized, “Ang precaution natin doon is for the dog to be fed properly and to be confined within a fenced area,” reminding people to have their pets vaccinated at their nearest veterinary clinic and treat animals with “tender loving care.”—(Mizpah Grace G. Castro, PGIN-CMO)