Vietnam has seen a sharp increase of rabies cases and fatalities in the past several months, according to the country's National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE).
The outbreak may be blamed on slack management by provincial health authorities and public ignorance of the threat according to Dr. Nguyen Tran Hien, director of the Institute and head of the Rabies Prevention Project Management Board.
Poor public awareness of rabies, negligent health workers and the free-range breeding of animals has led to a rise in rabies victims, he said.
Hien said domestic dogs (97 percent) are responsible for most human cases the rest come from cats. Despite this fact, the vaccination ratio for dogs nationwide ranges from between 60 to 70 percent; that number can drop as low as 0 percent in some provinces.
Dr. Dinh Kim Xuyen, former Standing Chairman of the National Rabies Prevention Project, said that Vietnam allows people to raise as many dogs as they wish and breeders here are never fined for failing to vaccinate their animals.
Furthermore, many people who are bitten by suspicious dogs do not bother to seek inoculation, Xuyen said ahead of World Rabies Day on September 28.
Rabies is mostly transmitted by bites from stray dogs. The disease kills about 55,000 people a year around the world, according to the World Health Organization. The largest group of victims are children under 15, according to the UN body.
Rabies continues to be the number one killer among the epidemic diseases in Vietnam according to the NIHE. Rabies deaths have occurred in 27 provinces and cities so far this year (mostly in the northern mountainous region) and killed more than 35 people. Seven died in Hanoi alone.
Rabies kills around 100 people a year in Vietnam, the NIHE reported. From 2001 to 2003, around 30 people died of this disease a year. However, 131 fatalities were reported in 2007 followed by 91 in 2008 and 64 in 2009.
Some 400,000 people are bitten by dogs every year and the country spends at least VND300 billion (US$15.4 million) on vaccines and inoculations against rabies annually, the NIHE said.
Rabies is an often deadly viral infection that is transmitted to humans though infected saliva that enters the body through a bite or broken skin. The virus travels from the wound to the brain, where it causes inflammation and, finally death. There is no cure for the virus, once it is established in its host.
Dr. Nguyen Tran Hien has warned people to vaccinate their pets and not let them roam around. Infected victims should clean their wound with soap or salt water and head immediately to a nearby clinic to get vaccinated.