By Gatonye Gathura
It is more trouble for boys than girls as the vast majority of dog owners in Kenya fail to vaccinate their animals against rabies.
A six-year study of animal bites and rabies in Kenya shows more boys than girls are being bitten by dogs many of which are not vaccinated.
Of 7307 animal bites recorded in 2011-2016 in 17 public hospitals in five counties, 4,019 boys aged under-15 were bitten compared to 2,607 girls of the same age.
Dogs accounted for 6720 or 93 per cent of the bites of which 78 per cent were owned free-roaming canines.
The study by a team from national and county government veterinary departments approximates up to 90 per cent of human animal-bite injuries are caused by dogs, 5 to 10 per cent by cats and 2 to 3 per cent by humans and rodents.
Due to this high rates of dog bites, the team reports high prevalence of rabies and possibly higher fatality rates due to poor access to anti-rabies prevention treatment.
The National Rabies Elimination Strategy estimates the disease to kill about 2,000 people in Kenya annually making this one of the top five human-animal diseases in the country.
The new report shows only about 25,000 of an estimated five million dogs in Kenya get anti-rabies vaccination.
The report published on August 9th 2018 in the journal BMC Public Health, says with this huge number of dog bites and unvaccinated canines, rabies remains a major public health problem in Kenya. This also undermines plans to have the disease eliminated by 2030.
Led by Dr Jeremiah Ngurimu Ngugi, a veterinarian with the County Department in Taita Taveta County the team had studied animal bites reported at public hospitals in five counties for a six-year period.
They interrogated 7,307 records of animal bites in 17 public hospitals in Machakos, Kitui, Kisumu, Nandi and Kilifi counties to get a nationally representative sample.
Kilifi had the highest number of human animal-bite injuries with the lowest in Machakos County.
Cases of animal bites in younger children were highest in Kitui while in all the counties more boys than girls suffered dog bites.
The higher number of dog bites on boys is attributed to a tendency by boys to provoke the animals.
Psychologists after experimentations say a fearful dog is more likely to bite and only one in10 primary school children are likely to correctly recognize a frightened dog.
In one such experiment, 41 per cent of girls correctly recognized the fearful dog by its body language, while only 29 per cent of the boys did.
In the current study most of the bites were by free ranging but owned dogs with the highest such cases recorded in Kilifi, Nandi, Kisumu, Kitui and Machakos in that order.
Bites from un-owned dogs, comprising 21 per cent of the total were highest in Kisumu and least in Kitui.
While most of the animal-human bites were on legs and hands, the study says there were records of bites to the head and face especially among younger children.
“Animals bites to the head and face are especially risky due to proximity to the central nervous system with progression to rabies highly likely if the bite occurs from a rabid animal.”
In such a case the experts, says there is a problem in Kenya because treatment may not be readily available and the nearest facility may be too far.
The report shows only about half of animal-bite victims reached a health facility within the first two days after the bite. Many of the patients also failed to get the full recommended preventive treatment.
For example, only 22 per cent of bite patients got the recommended three doses of preventive treatment in Kisumu, 28 per cent in Nandi and 49 per cent in Kitui.
The low rabies treatment completion rates is attributed to among others high cost of the drugs or their unavailability in public hospitals.
The Kenya’s Zoonotic Disease Unit estimates the cost of administering the full anti-rabies preventive treatment at about Sh8, 500 per person.
To meet the 2030 rabies elimination targets, the research team recommends more efforts in the mass vaccination of all dogs and public education on management of man’s best friend.