I’ve been told that the Balinese haven’t taken steps in the past to eradicate dirty stray dogs from their island because they need a constant reminder that they are still on dreary Planet Earth rather than in paradise. But be that as it may, I’m sure they are now harboring some pretty serious regrets about not wiping out the canine menace now that rabies is spreading like wildfire and threatening to harm the island’s only real industry – tourism.
So, so far, what’s the damage?
Well, at least 17 dead and possibly more (cases tend to be underreported for obvious reasons):
Age / Date of death / Place of residence
6 / 10 Oct 2009 / Tabanan
49 / 7 Oct 2009 / Tabanan
78 / 16 Sep 2009 / Tabanan
47 / 14 Sep 2009 / Tabanan
24 / 6 Sep 2009 / Tabanan
21 / 6 Sep 2009 / Tabanan
62 / 22 Aug 2009 / Tabanan (age also stated as 55)
46 / 26 Mar 2009 / Ungasan peninsula
46 / 23 Mar 2009 / Uluwatu
45 / 30 Jan 2009 / Ruken
32 / no date / Bukit
3 / no date / Kutuh
28 / 23 Nov 2008 / Ungasan
3 / no date / Ungasan
32 / 13 Nov 2008 / Ungasan
4 / 17 Sep 2008 / Ungasan
As you can see, nearly all these cases are in the south of the island (Tabanan/Ungasan). There is one case in the north of the island (at Kutuh, just north of Amed), but the victim was most probably bitten by a rabid dog in south Bali or perhaps – just perhaps - a sick dog was transported to the north of Bali and it bit the person before being delivered to one of the notorious dog meat restaurants in Singaraja.
Everyone knows that rabies is very nasty and the very mention of the word conjures up the image of some hapless fellow who has gone delirious and is foaming at the mouth and crying out for a glass of water before his imminent demise.
But is rabies really this bad?
Well, unfortunately it is.
Because after contracting the virus (most likely from an animal bite), the virus will work its way slowly but steadily to the brain – taking anywhere from 8 days to 2 months to do so. And once there, death is virtually a foregone conclusion – only a handful of people have ever survived after developing the terrible symptoms of rabies – delirium, an unquenchable thirst, and of course, the strong desire to bite another person!
But this doesn’t mean there is no hope. There is – provided that the person who has contracted rabies receives specialized treatment -including a serious of injections - immediately after being bitten.
In Bali, the rabies epidemic is currently being spread by stray dogs in the south of the island. But could the disease be spread by other animals? And most worrying of all, could the disease spread to the many monkey populations in Bali like those in Ubud, Uluwatu and Sangeh – places which draw large numbers of domestic and foreign visitors every day?
Well for now the answer is that the monkeys are safe. So if you have been bitten by a monkey in Bali there is no need to worry. The point here – and it’s pretty obvious if you think about it - is that like us, monkeys also die pretty quickly from rabies once the symptoms show and as there have been no known deaths in the monkey populations of Bali then the monkeys must therefore be free of the disease (so far at least):
A monkey bite can infect a human with rabies just the same as any other animal infected with it can. Monkeys are NOT born with rabies. They need to be bit by another infected animal. If a monkey has never been exposed to rabies then no, its bite will not "cause" rabies. If however, the monkey has been around another rabid animal and it was bit, it can infect another animal or person if it bites them. Note, rabies is deadly in monkeys just as it is in humans, so a monkey with rabies would not live very long anyway.
But this may change.
And if the monkeys in Bali were to get rabies there would be a proverbial shitstorm of such immense proportions that Bali’s tourism industry could really come under the kosh – and perhaps as badly as when the terrorists struck before.
The authorities in Bali have been criticized of being slow to react to the rabies epidemic and the biggest criticism is that the culling of the stray dogs is being done in a haphazard way. The other problem is that they have run out of vaccines, so if you are bitten by a dog in Bali you wouldn’t be able to get the vital injections on the island!
And as for the advice provided by most foreign embassies to avoid dogs, well that’s a bit of a joke when you think about it. I mean no one is asking to be bit, but I can clearly envisage many pissheads walking back to their hotels in the early hours from some club, staggeringly drunk, and then accidentally standing on the tail of some mangy and rabid hound….
Advice for Travelers
Follow these recommendations to protect you and your family from rabies:
Avoid animal bites.
• Avoid touching all animals, including wild animals and pets. Pets in other countries may not have been vaccinated against rabies.
• Resist the urge to rescue animals with the intent to bring them home to the United States. Dogs and cats may be infected with rabies but not show signs until several days or weeks after you first encounter them.
• Supervise children closely, especially around dogs, cats, and wildlife such as monkeys. This is important since children are more likely to be bitten by animals, may not report the bite, and may have more severe injuries from animal bites.
• If you are traveling with your pet, supervise your pet closely and do not allow it to play with local animals, especially strays.
Act quickly if an animal bites or scratches you.
• Wash the wound well with soap and water.
• See a doctor right away, even if you don’t feel sick or your wound is not serious. To prevent rabies, you may need to start a series of vaccinations immediately.
• To get vaccinated, be prepared to travel back to the United States or to another area. (Adequate vaccination for exposure to rabies is not available in all parts of the world.)
• After you return home, tell your doctor or state health department that you were bitten or scratched during travel.
Before your trip, find out if your health insurance covers health care overseas and medical evacuation. If it does not, consider buying supplemental health insurance for your trip.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention