A mysterious return of the rabies virus, once thought to be mostly controlled by modern medicine through vaccinations and similar precautions has been making a major comeback in Bali, a major tourist center still trying to recover its tourism industry after suicide bombers killed many citizens and visitors in 2002 and 2005. But these attacks have claimed 78 human lives since first appearing two years ago.
Rabies is largely a health concern that can be, for the most part, dealt with through vaccinations. But a combination of poor planning mixed with a mysteriously high incidence of hostility and violence among the animals has brought about travel precautions for the island, as they prepare for the upcoming summer tourist season. To compare the United States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico there are approximately 68 deaths from rabies annually, though this is a much larger area by comparison to Bali. The result is that for every approximate 52,000 square miles of space in the United States there is one death from rabies per year while by contrast there is one death annually for Bali for every 135 miles.
And the WHO is stunned by the high incidence of aggression in these animals. Is it possible there is something else at work here making the problem far worse than initially anticipated? Or is it nothing more than a series of coincidences combined with a few unknown but still mundane factors? The tradition of the residents of Bali, influenced heavily by Buddhism, hold dogs in high esteem with the belief that these animals will actually help take them to heaven. The unfortunate truth is, recent events have resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 of the animals by health organizations hoping to cull the rabid animals from the rest of the packs roaming the countryside. And even as these precautions are taken and residents are warned to leave the animals alone, the death toll continues to rise, leaving many people with the daunting question: what exactly is going on?
Because of the long incubation period for the virus, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to even years there are many cases of rabies being discovered long after the attacks take place. And with a serious vaccine shortage in hospitals in Bali, there is little hope of receiving treatment for many residents once they are infected. Even after a bite the rabies vaccine and treatments can increase a patient’s chances of survival, but as the 78 deaths from the disease threaten to be joined by more, there is no end in sight for this terrible and mysterious epidemic.
Some voices in Internet forums have expressed concern over the animals and their increased aggression mixed with the disease, although no concerted efforts to investigate the reasons for this increased aggression have been found. And with animal attack reports seemingly on the rise worldwide, it becomes only another piece to an increasingly complex puzzle.