Canine terror has a fatal face in Kashmir: Rabies

Patronized by the likes of Maneka Gandhi and her animal rights activist tribe, the growing street dog population is now unleashing canine terror in Kashmir. As the crisis is escalating, the dog-bitten patients are crowding hospitals to fight a deadly disease, Rabies.

Inside Srinagar’s SMHS hospital, the wounded often conceal the nature of the attack they face on the streets. It’s not always the confrontational armed forces, but the stray pack unleashing escalating canine terror in Kashmir that sends them packing to the hospital.

Once bitten by stray dogs, these wounded crowd the Anti-Rabies Clinic in a terrifying state — some with mutilated faces, others with chewed limbs and many with multiple scratches.

But lately when Farooq Ahmed, 23, was shifted here, he showed no fresh wounds. He acted weird, startling everyone with his violent and confused behaviour.

Before one could dismiss him as insane, the doctors told his attendants, that Farooq has been infected with Rabies, a virus that is almost always fatal in unvaccinated patients and is usually spread by the bite or scratch of a stray dog carrying the virus.

Some days back, when he was bitten by a street dog in his locality, Farooq had casually washed the wound with tap water and applied antiseptic cream, which he thought would cure his injury. He was wrong.

After failing to approach a doctor for getting a vaccine, he got infected.

As he stares at each passerby with haggard eyes inside the Anti-Rabies Clinic, the doctors are unsure of his survival. They say, he may even infect his family members and spread the damage further. To prevent the contact, he has been kept with many terminally-ill patients in the Isolation Ward.

“We don’t have a cure for Rabies,” says a young doctor, attending to Farooq. “We’ve a time limit in which we can vaccinate a person and attempt to prevent his condition from worsening.”

The sudden rise in the dog bites over the years has made children the worst hit.

As Rayan, 14, enters the clinic, he stops and avoids coming into close range of a glass of water kept on a table. The minor was bitten on his way back home from school. Initially, his wound didn’t appear threatening, but when his family noticed fever and sensations at the site of exposure some days later, they were alerted and rushed him to the hospital where he was declared as a Rabies-Virus patient.

“He’s suffering from hydrophobia,” the young doctor continues. “Even if he sees a drop of water, he loses his breath which can cause death at any time.”

After being vaccinated with an antibody dose (to boost his immune system), his condition remains critical, and he is under close observation. Around 40 such cases come to the clinic regularly.

Recently, when Hafeef-ur-Rehman was rushed to the hospital, blood was oozing from his badly wounded leg. A dog had bitten him when he was returning home after offering dawn prayers in a local mosque. Although he’s currently undergoing the third period of vaccination, he isn’t sure of his body’s fight against the virus which is almost always fatal in unvaccinated people.

Besides hydrophobia (fear of water), Rabies causes aerophobia (fear of air), uncontrolled excitement, inability to move body parts, confusion, and loss of consciousness in a person. Some symptoms of this virus can nearly result in death.

“Apart from an infected animal’s scratch or bite, Rabies can be transmitted if saliva comes in contact with the mouth, eyes or a wound,” says a doctor. “But more than 99% of rabies cases are caused by dog bites.”

SMHS’ Department of Community Medicine registered 599 rabies cases in the month of June from Srinagar alone.

“Persons with full grown Rabies, who are in their acute manifestations, don’t come to hospitals easily,” a doctor treating a dog bite case in the clinic says. “Such cases run away from instruments producing air currents or even avoid the sight of drinking water lying nearby.” Such sights choke these patients and can lead to death.

Haneef Ahmed, 64, remembers that ‘unfortunate’ day when he was bitten by a street dog right outside his home in the month of Ramzan.

“It was around 8 in the morning and as soon as I stepped out for a morning walk, some street dogs came running and bit me hard,” says Haneef who lives in Srinagar’s HMT. “I cried and shouted for help but there was no one on the street.”

It was only after his next-door neighbor peeped out of his window and went out to gather more neighbours that Haneef was saved from further attack. He was immediately rushed to the hospital where he was vaccinated which saved him from severe damage.

But like any other Rabies patients, Haneef is fearful of developing the virus, even after undergoing the required treatment.

“The destruction of the body is decided by the virus load, the bitten area of the body and the immune system of the person,” says a doctor inside the clinic. “The first twenty four hours are crucial. The victim must take the vaccination within this time, which, if failed, may lead to full grown rabies and ultimately death.”

There are reported cases where ears of car drivers have been chopped off by dogs by jumping into a moving vehicle though an open window. The disease also comes with other woes and worries for the patients.

In his third phase of vaccination, Farooq Khan, 54, finds it hard to arrange money for the medicines required. As he jumps to the weight machine, which is one of the procedures to give the dose of medicines, he is unsure if he can buy the medicines which will possibly be prescribed to him after the weight reading.

“I was bitten by a street dog in Banihal,” Farooq says. “I’m a daily-wager and have a family behind. I think twice before getting the medicine for my treatment. I missed two phases of my treatment due to financial constraints.”

If these life-threatening cases won’t force authorities to strike some disciple on the streets and end the canine terror, Farooq wonders, “then it would mean, dogs indeed matter more than humans in Kashmir”.


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