Day of the Jackal
55,000 deaths occur worldwide annually - a death every 10 minutes
The village of ‘Ali Oluwa’ has been in the news since the Mavil Aru battle last year. Villagers frequently experience the terrors of war in this border village in Seruwila in the Eastern Province. On several occasions, artillery fire has forced them to evacuate to safer ground. This time though they face a new threat- a lone jackal lurking around the village.
|File pic of jackal at Yala by Fonny Fonseka
A farmer was attacked on September 15 as he bent down to wash his mammoty in the canal near the village. He reports that the snarling animal attacked him from behind but he managed to chase it away with his mammoty, avoiding serious injury.
Washing the wound, he went to the doctor, only then getting to know of this new threat to his village. Three other villagers had been attacked by the same jackal.
The animal looks like a rabid domesticated dog, but the bushy tail and the body colour confirms it as a jackal. It has since been sighted in different places, striking fear in local families. It is believed that the animal is infected with rabies and the delay in capturing it increases the possibility of a series of rabies cases. Jackal bites to other animals, especially domesticated animals, carry that danger.
This jackal was seen roaming in broad daylight. “We realized that the animal was off-colour, but we could not do much. We are not supposed to kill the animal, as it is illegal,” commented a villager. In Sri Lanka, the jackal is protected under the Flora and Fauna Act. Scientifically known as Canis aureu, it lives in both the wet and dry zones, preferring the edges of the jungle.
Being the only wild canine in Sri Lanka, the jackal is also a carrier of rabies. “During the dry season, jackals sometime raid villages in search of food. Poultry, young goats, small cattle are their main targets. This often results in conflict with the villagers and their dogs and helps the virus cross over from domesticated dogs to jackals and back,” commented the Regional Veterinary Surgeon for Seruwila, Dr. G. G. N. P. Seneviratne.
“Attacks by jackals have been reported from different parts of the island. There were cases of jackal attacks in places like Wathupitiwala, Galigamuwa (Kegalle), Bulathsinhala and even in Kaluaggala. Often the dogs confront their wild relatives and get themselves infected,” said Dr. P. A. L. Harischandra, Director of the Public Health Veterinary Services Unit.
Wild animals like jackals, mongoose, and bats sometimes can be live carriers, where they do not get infected, but can transfer the virus to a dog or a human through their saliva. So in case of an attack, it is always necessary to get treated for rabies, even though the animal has not showed signs of rabies, he advises.
Bats another carrier
Bats can possibly be another carrier of rabies. These flying mammals are threatening European and American countries that have successfully eradicated rabies from domesticated animals. Bats have sharp teeth and a simple bite may transfer the disease.
Dr. Vipula Yapa, who is conducting bat studies in Sri Lanka says he never allows untrained students to handle bats when they get caught in mist nests while doing research. Some of these flying mammals like Horseshoe bats are very aggressive and researchers are often bitten. Revealing an interesting fact, Dr. Vipula Yapa said that he and other researchers in his team are always vaccinated against rabies.
The virus causing rabies affects the brain and the first indications of developing rabies is usually a change in personality or behaviour. Once symptoms of the disease develop, rabies is fatal to both animals and humans.
Two types of Rabies
There are two general types of rabies known as Dumb Rabies and Furious Rabies. A dog with dumb rabies usually has a dropped jaw with tongue hanging out and saliva dripping from its lips. This is caused by paralysis of the throat muscles. This animal can bite but is usually not vicious.
Furious rabies is an entirely different story. The symptoms include change in personality and may result in a change in the sound of the bark due to partial paralysis of the vocal cords.
The animal tries to hide in dark corners, closets or under beds and becomes highly excitable and restless. It starts to roam and may wander for miles, snapping and biting at anything that gets in its way. Usually in four to eight days paralysis develops and the animal dies.
|Gentle giant not spared too
Even an elephant can be infected by rabies. Recently an 84-year-old female elephant owned by a temple was diagnosed with rabies. The elephant was brought for treatment with a complaint of tiredness and lethargy.
Veterinary surgeon Dr. D.S. Kodikara had been treating the elephant for many years but although known to the animal, the elephant kicked him without obeying orders as usual. Realizing that something was drastically wrong, Dr. Kodikara instructed the mahout to chain the elephant. By the next day the elephant was unsteady on its legs. This continued and a few days later, she became aggressive and restless. Dr. Kodikara suspected that the elephant may be infected with rabies. On the ninth day, she died.
An autopsy was conducted and brain smears were sent to the MRI in Colombo. After a thorough test, Dr. Omala Wimalaratne, the Head of the Rabies Diagnosis Unit of the MRI- confirmed rabies in the elephant. Tissue samples sent to the USA for further investigations confirmed this. The virus found in the elephant was the canine strain, indicating that the elephant had got rabies through a dog bite.
Three months later, another male elephant that was part of the same elephant squad showed the same symptoms. Dr. Kodikara was called in and the initial testing proved the second case of rabies in an elephant. It was the first live elephant that was treated for rabies. But it was too late and the second elephant was also died after a few days.
Dr. Omala Wimalaratne presented the case at a high profile WHO seminar. Now the WHO has issued a directive to vaccinate all elephants in captivity against rabies.
|The main culprits: Domesticated, stray dogs
Though occasionally wild animals are the culprits, like in the case of Ali Oluwa, it is mostly the domesticated and stray dogs that spread Rabies. The culprits are dogs in 97% of these cases, cats 2% and 1% by other animals. Responsible pet ownership and controlling the stray dog population are the main preventive initiatives.
The government spends over Rs. 260 million to treat humans for rabies. Not all the dogs that bite people may have rabies, so those bitten may not need to follow the complete course of medicine. This will help to save the money spent on drugs unnecessarily.
The Head of the Department of Rabies Diagnosis Research-Medical Research Institute (MRI) Dr. Omala Wimalaratne urges the public to cooperate in this effort. By examining the brains of the dead animals, MRI issues a diagnosis within 24 hours. People can bring the heads of the deceased animals to MRI’s regional labs located in Kandy and Karapitiya or MRI’s main laboratory located in Danister de Silva Mw, Borella (opposite Lady Ridgeway Hospital).
Statistics show that 55,000 deaths due to rabies occur worldwide annually- a death every 10 minutes. It is estimated that there are over 2.5 million dogs in Sri Lanka (of which a large proportion is not vaccinated)and that over 2000 dog bites occur daily. During the first 7 months of this year 26 human deaths were recorded due to rabies according to Health Department statistics. During the last 8 months, 388 animals have tested positive for the deadly disease.
Realizing that ‘prevention is the best way to fight against Rabies’, the World Health Organization, co-sponsored the first World Rabies Day on September 8 which was held in Sri Lanka as well.