307 died of rabies in India last yr, max 48 in Del: Data tabled in Parl

Agra: In 2022, 307 persons died due to rabies in India. Delhi reported the maximum cases — 48 — followed by West Bengal (38) and 29 deaths each in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The data was shared by Union minister of state for health and family welfare, SP Singh Baghel, during the ongoing monsoon session in Lok Sabha in response to a question raised by Dean Kuriakose, the Congress MP from Idukki, Kerala, last week. According to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), rabies is responsible for significant morbidity and mortality in India.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), India accounts for 36% of the global deaths due to the disease, which is transmitted through the saliva or bite of an infected animal. The number of human deaths globally due to dog-mediated rabies is estimated to be 59,000 annually, the NCDC report said.

“Rabies is responsible for significant morbidity and mortality in India. The disease is endemic in the country — human and animal cases of rabies are reported from all over, except for Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands,” the report added.

In India, around 96% of rabies infections and deaths are caused by dog bites. According to Association of Prevention and Control of Rabies in India (APCRI), India annually records 1.7 crore dog bites. There have been several such instances in the recent past. In one such instance in April this year, a 70-year-old retired doctor was mauled to death by a pack of dogs while out on morning walk in the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus. A five-year-old girl was killed by strays in Agra last year and a 12-year-old boy was killed by dogs in Bareilly in May.

WHO also estimates that India accounts for 65% of the deaths due to rabies in the South-East Asia region. According to the NCDC report, most of the rabies-triggered deaths are estimated to have occurred in Asia (59.6%) and Africa (36.4%). The NCDC report also mentions that children form “40% of the people exposed to dog bites in rabies-endemic areas” and are the “most vulnerable”. To align with the ‘Global Strategic Plan’ to end human deaths from dog-mediated rabies by 2030, the central government had launched the National Rabies Control Programme (NRCP) in March this year. NRCP reported “6644 clinically suspected cases and deaths of human rabies between 2012 and 2022”.

Reacting to the issue, Indian Medical Association’s central working committee member, Dr Sharad Gupta, said, “A large stray dog population and limited success in control methods, such as mass dog vaccination and animal birth control, are among the reasons for the high number of animal bite and rabies cases in India. Almost all of these deaths can be prevented with safe and efficacious rabies vaccines, but somehow the efforts have fallen short so far.”

“The incubation period for rabies is typically two–three months but may vary from one week to one year, depending on factors such as the location of virus entry and the viral load. Initial symptoms of rabies include generic signs like fever, pain and unusual or unexplained tingling, pricking, or burning sensations at the wound site. As the virus moves to the central nervous system, progressive and fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord develops. Once clinical symptoms appear, rabies is virtually 100% fatal,” Dr Gupta added.

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