Saturday, September 08, 2007
THE Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association (JVMA), which joins other countries around the world in marking the inaugural World Rabies Day, says the public needs to be educated about this disease, given the reported incidence of smuggling of animals into the country from various sources, including rabies-infected countries.
Jamaica, however, remains on the list of rabies-free countries, the association said.
The disease kills approximately 55,000 people worldwide every year, mainly in developing countries.
Rabies is caused by a virus that infects the nervous system causing erratic or aggressive behaviour, paralysis, coma and death in many animal species including humans. It may take up to six months between exposure and the onset of illness but once the disease manifests itself, there is no cure.
"Jamaica's rabies-free status has existed since the 18th Century. Laws were enacted back in the 1940s to prevent its introduction, including banning the importation of rabies-prone animals (eg dogs and cats) from anywhere except the rabies-free UK and Ireland. Under these laws, rabies vaccines are not allowed into the country," the Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association said.
The association said, however, that with current advances in vaccine technology and the global trend in the pet travel, the laws need to be modified.
"In recent years, growing interest in dogs of various breeds and other 'exotic' pets, combined with the impediment of the import restrictions led to many being smuggled into the island, allegedly from South and Central America and neighbouring Caribbean islands," the association said.
It said, however, that illegal importation has raised the spectre of the introduction of rabies as an infected animal may take as long as six months to show signs of the disease, but can shed virus in its saliva during that time.
Said the association: "Introduction and spread of this deadly disease could have serious consequences for our large, uncontrolled dog and cat populations, our mongoose population, and to a lesser extent our cattle, goats and horses.
"People would also be at risk and there could be fatalities if the disease is not recognised early. This highlights the need for proper animal identification systems, control of stray animals, effective quarantine facilities for imported animals, improved diagnostic capabilities, disease surveillance, action to discourage smuggling, and the updating of our archaic laws that currently prevent Jamaica from effectively participating in a global surveillance and prevention effort."
The JVMA called for the adoption of measures similar to the UK's Pet Travel Scheme, already a reality in many rabies-free Caribbean states. This, it said, would, in effect, enhance protection against the introduction of rabies by providing a safe, legal method for the movement of animals to and from other countries, reducing the impetus for risky smuggling activities.