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Free-Roaming Dogs: Facts to Know.

Posted by Stuart Rose on

There are about one billion dogs in the world, and only about one-quarter are pets. The rest? Some are neighborhood dogs, recognized and perhaps given handouts by people who live in a certain area. Sometimes they are adopted by people. Others may feed and breed on their own, but spend nights at the homes of people. Others are pure scavengers, living mostly off garbage. The number of dogs that can survive in a city or a neighborhood or at a dump is determined by the available garbage. it is calculated that in the tropics it takes about 100 people to produce enough garbage to support seven free-living dogs.

In my travel clinic, I warn about these free-roaming, unvaccinated dogs, because they are responsible for about 60,000 rabies deaths a year worldwide. India has the highest rate of rabies in the world.

I tell travelers: Don't pet animals, and an unprovoked bite, especially from a dog, requires immediate medical evaluation—not only to assess the need for rabies shots, but also because of the risk for a bite-caused bacterial infection.

If you are un-immununized and get bitten:  Wash the wound out immediately with soap and water: This alone can often prevent rabies if no shots are later administered.

If you are deemed at risk, you will need not only a series of 5 rabies shots (4 now in the US) administered over several weeks, but you will also need Rabies Immune Globulin (RIG), which is anti-rabies serum, which is injected around the bite to neutralize the virus. 

The rabies vaccine alone will NOT prevent the disease. Both vaccine and RIG are required.

However, if you have been immunized prior to exposure with the vaccine (3 shots prior to travel) you then do NOT need (nor should receive) RIG, but you will need 2 booster shots of vaccine, 3 days apart.

Bottom line: Stay away from stray dogs, don't feed them, and report any unprovoked attack. Children are especially at risk because they may not tell their parents about a bite.


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