The Persistent Danger of Rabies

Make sure you are vaccinated, and your pets are too!

At the recent Vietnam Animal Welfare Conference, an annual event promoting animal (domestic, farm and wildlife) protection, Dr. Phan Xuan Thao, Director at the HCMC Department of Animal Health, presented a poignant reminder of the persistent danger of contracting rabies in Vietnam. Rabies is a virus transmitted through the saliva of an animal which causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and is fatal if not detected and treated immediately. Although the majority of rabies cases are reported from rural areas, urban Saigon is not completely immune, where only Districts 1, 3, 4 and 5 are considered rabies free.

Startlingly statistics recently reported by the Department of Preventive Medicine and the Ministry of Health highlight the gravity of the situation where 400,000 people are bitten by cats, dogs and other animals annually in Vietnam, and to date, 49 people have died from rabies in 2016.

A factor in the spread of rabies is the overpopulation of cats and dogs created by the demands of the dog and cat meat trade through the smuggling and trafficking of mostly unvaccinated dogs into Vietnam from neighboring countries. A few unvaccinated dogs may escape their captors and run with other stray dogs that might be carriers of the virus. Dr. Thao mentioned that stray dogs are very hard to track and manage, especially in suburban and rural areas where the trafficking of stolen dogs takes place.

High Risk Groups In Need Of Rabies Vaccinations

Rabies can be transmitted by dogs, cats, bats, and other domestic and wild animals in Vietnam. The Department of Animal Health in HCMC recommends vaccinations for the following groups:

  • All long-term expats with dogs that ‘socialize’ with other dog owners in public spaces and who may walk their dogs in rural areas off leash.
  • Frequent travelers to Vietnam involved in outdoor and other recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, adventure travel and caving, especially in the Northern Highlands region.
  • Individuals who are in direct contact and working with animals, such as veterinarians/staff and especially animal rescue volunteers.
  • All children must be vaccinated as they have a natural tendency to play with stray dogs or cats. They might not tell you that they were bitten, scratched or licked from possibly unvaccinated dogs and cats that may have rabies.

Puppy and Kitten Rabies Vaccinations

Puppies from properly vaccinated mothers receive maternal antibodies against rabies for their first three months, therefore it is recommended to vaccinate a dog at three months, again at nine months and revaccinate annually or at least every three years.

It is recommended to keep your ‘Pet Health Passport’ current and available as representatives of the HCMC Department of Animal Health make random checks on households throughout Saigon to check if your dog and cat are vaccinated.

Also, beware of the issues in the storage and handling of rabies vaccines by local veterinarians. Rabies vacancies must be refrigerated and maintained at temperatures ranging from 35-45°F (2-7°C). Temperatures higher or lower than this range can result in the death of the living vaccine organisms, leaving the product ineffective.

Rabies also play a critical role in leaving Vietnam with your pets. Since Vietnam is designated a high-risk rabies country and, no matter what your destination, you have to have your cat or dog tested for rabies at your own cost. There are many capable relocation service agencies and veterinarian clinics to help you in Saigon (read my articles—Animals on the Go and Flying with Fido—for tips on relocating your pets).

Do you need a Rabies Vaccination?

If you had a rabies vaccination before coming to Vietnam as a result of following travel advisory advice (pre-exposure vaccinations), then the effectiveness of a rabies vaccination is about 10 years or more. If this is all new to you then please arrange to get a vaccination immediately. It just takes one unexpected bite, and never assume that all dogs you encounter are vaccinated.

Clinics in Saigon that offer Rabies (benh dai) Vaccination:

Pasteur Institute

167 Pasteur, D3

Victoria Healthcare International Clinics

79 Dien Bien Phu, D1

135A Nguyen Van Troi, Phu Nhuan

Broadway D – 152 Nguyen Luong Bang, D7

International SOS Vietnam

167A Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D3

BIO: With a family that includes six cats, two dogs and a couple of dozen fish, Wayne Capriotti is a zoo curator and, along with his wife, publishes Vietnam’s first pet magazine Me Thu Cung.

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