Rabies Prevention Starts with Responsible Pet Ownership

As rabies cases in Iloilo surge to alarming levels, the pressing issue of responsible pet ownership comes to the forefront.

According to the Iloilo Provincial Health Office (IPHO), the province recorded a staggering 14,632 cases of dog and cat bites in the first quarter of 2024 alone. This rise has prompted a warning about the possible shortage of anti-rabies vaccines, critical in mitigating the spread of this deadly disease.

The statistics are troubling: from 40,183 animal bites in 2021, cases have continuously surged, reaching 72,805 in 2023. Human rabies cases, though fewer, show a worrying trend with twelve cases in 2021, four in 2022, and five in 2023.

The current year has already seen three rabies-related fatalities from Pototan, Dumangas, and Alimodian.

Despite efforts, the vaccines supplied to rural health units (RHUs) and hospitals are insufficient. IPHO head Dr. Maria Socorro Colmenares-Quiñon highlights the urgency, noting that even bulk vaccine releases quickly deplete due to the high demand.

This shortage underscores the vital role of responsible pet ownership. The IPHO and provincial authorities have been vocal about the necessity for pet owners to keep their pets vaccinated and to adhere to local ordinances.

The provincial ordinance mandates that no dog or cat should be kept as a pet unless vaccinated against rabies, with registration of domesticated pets also being compulsory.

Failure to follow these guidelines not only risks the health of the pets but also endangers public health. Pet owners must understand that they are legally and morally responsible for preventing their pets from causing harm. In cases where pets do cause injuries, owners must compensate victims for medical costs and any income loss during hospitalization.

Furthermore, the province has allocated an additional PP3.5 million for anti-rabies vaccines, aiming to address the immediate shortage. However, funding alone is not a sustainable solution. The community must engage in proactive measures to curb the rising tide of animal bites and rabies cases.

Achieving a rabies-free status by 2026, as envisioned by the provincial government, requires a concerted effort. The Provincial Veterinarian Office’s achievement of a 79 percent vaccination coverage, a significant increase from previous years, sets a hopeful precedent. Yet, the ultimate success hinges on widespread adherence to responsible pet ownership practices.

While the government intensifies its vaccination campaigns and allocates more resources, the onus is on pet owners to act responsibly. Ensuring pets are vaccinated, registered, and controlled can significantly reduce the incidence of bites and rabies, fostering a safer environment for all. This much is clear: responsible pet ownership is not just a personal duty but a public health imperative.