CHENNAI: Rabies, which kills 30,000 Indians every year, has a new terminator: a dog biscuit.
Instead of catching stray dogs for inoculation, civic field workers may soon only have to feed them biscuits laced with oral rabies vaccine to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
Pune-based Intervet India, the local arm of the Netherlands-based MNC dealing in animal health products, has completed laboratory trials on the first dog-specific oral rabies vaccine in the world.
With field trials beginning this week with the support of the Animal Welfare Board of India, the biscuit-vaccine is likely to be commercially sold in six months.
“A capsule containing the vaccine (attenuated strains of the rabies virus) is hidden in the dog biscuit, which acts as an attractive oral bait,” S Kilari, head of R&D at Intervet India, told DNA.
“As soon as the dog bites it, the capsule breaks, releasing the vaccine into the animal’s system. Laboratory trials have found the vaccine to be 100 per cent effective and safe.”
Some Western countries have been using oral vaccines on wild carnivores like jackals. Adapting such vaccines for use in urban stray dogs has been a five-year mission for Kilari and his team of 10 scientists.
“Stray dogs in India live in close contact with human beings, so we had to ensure total safety,” he said. “It is harmless even if a human being accidentally consumes the biscuit.”
Chennai has a stray dog population of 1.5 lakh and the numbers are estimated to be much higher for Mumbai and Delhi. “Rounding up the canines for inoculation is a risky job for field workers and a torture for the dogs,” said RM Kharb, a senior veterinarian and new chairman of AWBI. “A biscuit-vaccine just has to be thrown to the dog, which is sure to pounce on it.”
Hundreds of cases of human rabies due to dog-bite are reported every day in India. “Preventing the disease at the canine-level is sure to bring down the incidence of human infections,” Kharb said.
The vaccine may have export potential as well. Several Asian countries face the stray-dog menace.
The biscuit should be administered only by qualified persons. Medication should be given in proper dosage to avoid any risk. — Anuradha Sawhney, PETA India
The concept is innovative but should be approved by the appropriate agencies. — Nilesh Bhanage, Plants and Animals Welfare Society
An oral vaccine is much needed, but its efficiency must be ensured. It will save time and make the task of vaccinating stray dogs easier. — Abodh Aras, The Welfare of Stray Dogs