Rabies and its Potential Risks for Nigeria’s Livestock Production

By Dr Samuel Akpan

The Rabies Situation in Nigeria

Rabies, an encephalitic viral disease is arguably the most talked about zoonotic disease in Nigeria. Caused by the Lyssaviruses, it is spread by bites from infected animal to another animal (mostly dogs), or infected animals to humans. Bats have mostly been implicated as the source of the infection to dogs. The disease affects the central nervous system, and in most cases, result to deaths. The last World Rabies Day, marked globally on 28th September 2020 had as its theme, “End Rabies: “Collaborate, Vaccinate”; a call for public cooperation  and action towards complete elimination of the disease globally by the year 2030. However, Nigeria seems to lag behind in this drive, as the rabies cases has proven to be a recurring decimal in Nigeria, what more with numerous stray dogs and patches of cases reported in many states in the north and southern parts, over the last decade. This is in addition to the myriad of possible unreported cases in the rural communities and peri-urban city centres. The issue of non-compliance of dog owners to vaccination is also a recurrent problem, predisposing the public and thus maintaining the cycle of infection in Nigeria.

Incidence in Akwa Ibom

Recently residents and animal workers in Akwa Ibom and neighbouring states have had to brace up against the surge of rabies infection in the state. Briefing the Akwa Ibom State chapter of the Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), Dr Nanven Maurice, a veterinarian and state representative of the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), stated that in the past one month, Uyo the state capital alone has witnessed about 5 cases of animal rabies (3 in dogs, 2 in pigs). Explaining further on the case history, he stated that a suspected rabid stray dog had reportedly found its way into a pig farm and bit the pigs, before intervention. On isolation and monitoring, the pigs developed clinical signs of the rabies after a 3-week period, with resultant deaths. He went on to state that samples were collected, processed and sent to the Virology laboratory of the NVRI in Jos, Plateau State, where samples have tested positive. He therefore enjoined all veterinarians in the area to observe precautionary measures while handling any cases brought before them, and to ensure they take shots of the anti-rabies vaccine for their protection.

Impact on Livestock

With the emerging negative impacts of rabies to animal production and livelihood of livestock farmers (as seen in the Akwa Ibom pigs as well as the potential of viruses for mutation and specie jump (from dogs to pigs, and possibly to poultry) in the future, it is imperative for Nigeria to pay more proactive attention to rabies, than mere lip service. It is possible that without the prompt intervention by farm workers, the rabid dog would have bitten more animals, resulting to more deaths and severe economic losses. When this occurs, the lives of farm workers and livestock farmers and are endangered, which impedes their productivity, thus affecting food sufficiency and livelihoods in the country.

The Way Forward

With the peculiarity of Nigeria taken into consideration, the following steps should be taken as step towards safeguarding livestock production

(1) As is the case for other infectious diseases (such as polio, measles, etc), free or markedly subsidized anti-rabies vaccines should be made available in human and veterinary hospitals/clinics, to make them more readily available and affordable for the general public, dog owners, animal care givers, veterinarians and other persons occasionally exposed by their occupation. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations will be well suited for this.

(2) Provision should be made for the compensation of farmers/livestock owners who lose animals or workers as a result of rabies. This would help to cushion the effects.

(3) More public awareness campaigns are needed to educate people on the dangers of not registering or vaccinating their dogs and other animals as at when due.

(4) More stringent fines should be enforced on dog owners who allow their dogs to stray, and boarding facilities should be created in animal establishments to house any stray dogs captured.

(5) Research institutions such as the National Animal Production Research Institute (NAPRI) and the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), and universities should be adequately funded to carry out studies on cross infectivity of the rabies virusacross animal species, so as to provide adequate information and protective measures for livestock.

 These steps when taken, will to a large extent reduce and forestall future incidences, break the cycle of rabies virus, and protect the future of Nigeria’s livestock and food security. LIVESTONEWS.

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