By Sharon Atieno

Washing a dog bite wound with soap and running water is vital in the treatment of rabies, a viral zoonotic disease which accounts for 2000 deaths in Kenya annually.

One of the activities recommended for preventing rabies in humans according to the 2014 National Rabies Elimination Strategy is local treatment of wounds using soap and water for 15 minutes to reduce the rabies virus at the site of bite.

“Washing the bitten surface with soap and running water for at least 10 minutes reduces the chances of the virus spreading,” says Dr. Eric Osoro, a zoonotic disease expert, in an interview during the ninth Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)’s annual scientific and health conference.”It removes a lot of the saliva and the virus, as the saliva is the carrier of rabies virus.”

According to the World Health Organization, in up to 99 percent of rabies cases, domestic dogs are responsible for the rabies virus transmission to human beings. The virus is spread through bites and scratches usually via saliva.

The disease affects the brain causing febrile illness which progresses to confusion and in some cases convulsions and eventually resulting to death if treatment is not taken immediately.

“Though the incubation period is 2 to 3 months, the person can die earlier if treatment is not sought in time as the spread of the virus to the brain depends on how far from the brain or head the bite is,” says Osoro.

Treatment of rabies is usually given in five doses, and is highly recommended on the first or three days after being bitten in order to reduce the spread of the virus to the brain, as the virus travels into the nerves. A delay in getting treatment reduces the effectiveness of the treatment resulting in death even after treatment in some cases.

Though Kenya had managed to suppress rabies in 1970 through sustained dog vaccination, a breakdown of the efforts allowed the disease to spread making all the regions in the country endemic to the disease.

The main method of rabies prevention is through mass vaccination of dogs. The Kenyan government puts emphasis on the vaccination of dogs because it is a less costly venture compared to human treatment. While vaccinating the dog costs about USD 1.5, human vaccination after being bitten costs at least USD 50. Despite the cost, access to the vaccine is difficult as it is not readily available.

Several efforts geared towards controlling rabies in the country resulted in minimal impact on the eradication of the disease. This in turn gave rise to the 2014 National Rabies Elimination Strategy which aims at eliminating the disease by 2030. There is need to ensure proper implementation of the strategy in order to eradicate rabies, which is among the top five priority zoonotic diseases in Kenya.