Rabies panic took over the Kingdom during the past few weeks after news spread on social media that a young girl died from the disease after being bitten by a cat, followed by news of a man dying in Tboung Khmum province, where many villagers did not understand how deadly the disease could be.
Preah Theat commune, Tboung Khmum province — Fear has set in here, where villagers have been left in a state of shock after a man died from rabies following a scratch from a dog.
Last Tuesday, 58-year-old Tim Heng died from rabies after an infected dog scratched him in December. As his family marks his funeral here in Tuol Meanchey village on Sunday, his daughter Heng Nat, 37, recalls the ordeal while fighting back tears.
“He told us with his last dying breath to get rid of all the dogs around the home to protect villagers here,” she says. “Two months after he was attacked, we took him to hospital, but the doctors said it was too late; he was too infected already.”
Ms Nat says her father went to toilet in December and saw a dog sleeping nearby. To scare it away, he grabbed a stick and tried to make it flee, but was attacked.
Afterwards, he did not seek treatment as his family – like many in the village – was not aware of the deadly rabies disease.
“Villagers here, including my family, did not know a dog could infect you with rabies which could then kill you,” she says. “The four dogs we had around the home have now been banished.”
Rabies panic took over the Kingdom during the past few weeks after news spread on social media that a young girl died from the disease after being bitten by a cat.
Posts from the girl’s funeral went viral and led to thousands seeking flocking to the Pasteur Institute in the capital for vaccination.
Prime Minister Hun Sen weighed in as the panic grew, pleading with villagers to remain calm.
“I want to appeal to people across the country not to panic since many people have flocked to get rabies vaccination at Pasteur Institute and other places,” he said. “The Ministry of Health is working on that issue.”
“We make our efforts to solve it, but those who are not bitten by a dog or a cat, have also came so it is difficult for those who really need vaccination,” he said, noting that people should avoid playing with dogs and cats.
Mr Hun Sen also asked the Health Ministry to distribute vaccines to public hospitals and private clinics in Phnom Penh and the provinces to speed up treatment of rabies.
According to 2009 research by the Pasteur Institute, rabies is a fatal but preventable disease. However, it poses a major public health problem in developing countries.
Ly Sowath, Pasteur Institute deputy director, declined to comment, but has previously stated that about 800 people die from rabies in the Kingdom each year.
Ly Sovann, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, says there are three places providing rabies vaccination, including two places in Phnom Penh and another in Battambang province.
“We will launch one more place in Kampong Cham province,” Mr Sovann says, noting that people should get vaccinated prior to being exposed. “Do not wait for symptoms to appear to seek treatment.”
“When symptoms come, it may be too late,” he adds. “We need an injection of vaccination to prevent it.”
Mr Sovann says that the government often disseminates information on the disease over the radio and television and will continue informing the public of the deadly risks of wild dogs and cats.
Back in the village, Ngorn Chamroeun, a friend of Mr Heng’s, says he was shocked to learn that his friend died from rabies.
“Now we are always afraid,” he says. “Our elders told us people infected by rabies are scared of water and it’s true; when we brought my friend to a traditional healer and put water on him, he was scared.”
Mr Chamroeun says most villagers had no idea the disease could be fatal, but the death of Mr Heng and recent panic that spread across the country has forced them to face the truth.
“We had just heard rumours, but now we have seen it with our own eyes,” he says. “This disease is very brutal.”
“People have been left so scared that even those who just touched Mr Heng are seeking treatment,” he adds. “Many people do not understand much about the rabies disease.”
Hou Mut, 59, who lives in a village adjacent to where Mr Heng died, says she is concerned for her grandchildren in the wake of the panic.
“I did not know a rabies-infected dog could bite and kill a person,” she says. “Now we are really afraid and we went to hospital to see a doctor for vaccination after learning of Mr Heng’s death.”
“We didn’t care about dog bites in the past, but now we are very worried and my grandson was just bitten, so we had to go get injections for him to be safe,” she adds. “I was so angry with my grandchildren for playing with a dog after all this.”
Ms Mut says local authorities have not yet disseminated information on rabies in her village, but many people are taking it upon themselves to educate their families after learning of Mr Heng’s death.
“We were all shocked after his death,” she says. “We heard rumours of people dying from dog bites in the past, but now we have seen it with our own eyes.”
She adds that her local health centre cannot provide the vaccine and she and many others cannot afford to pay for treatment at private clinics.
“I want the government to provide free-of-charge rabies vaccination for the poor,” she says. “Poor villagers who cannot afford vaccinations often just clean bite wounds with shampoo and chilli to cure it.”
“At my house there are two dogs, and now we are too scared to play with them,” she adds. “We have instructed our children and grandchildren to stay clear of dogs and cats.”
WATCH: People flock to the Institute Pasteur in Cambodia these days to get rabies vaccines, now that rabies is resurgent. KT/Tep Sony
Posted by Khmer Times on Sunday, 24 February 2019