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January 21, 2019

Who let the dogs out? Strays wreak havoc as they spread rabies

Veterinarians inspect a dog at a past vaccination event /FILE
Veterinarians inspect a dog at a past vaccination event /FILE

Poor management of dog populations, including lack of vaccination, is to blame for the recent surge in dog attacks, veterinary experts say.

The National Rabies Elimination Strategy estimates that rabies kills an average of 2,000 Kenyans annually. And more cases are being reported.

For example, last month, a landlady was charged at the Milimani law courts with negligence after her dog bit two of her tenants on September 19 in Loresho, Nairobi.

And in November, three children and a woman, 34, were mauled by a stray dog from Nembure village in Embu West subcounty. The stray dogs were said to be rabid.

On November 28, it was also reported that deputy DPP Joseph Riungu's son was mauled by dogs during a school trip to Naivasha.

Previously, KCPE candidate Lucy Wangui, 14, from Gatanga, Muranga county, succumbed to rabies. She had been on treatment since September.

In August, a boy, 5, was attacked by two dogs in Nakuru. The boy was attacked while with friends, playing in the neighbourhood.

Veterinary consultant Kenneth Wameyo blames the upsurge in rabies cases on increased dog population that is not being vaccinated against rabies, as is the requirement in law”.

The former secretary of the Kenya Veterinary Association added that most dog owners are increasingly negligent, leaving their dogs to roam unattended. “Children are the most vulnerable because they love playing with animals,” he said.


Zoonotic dogs unit estimate that there are 4.2 million dogs in the country and only about 25,000 of them are vaccinated.

Infectious disease epidemiologist Mark Nanyingi told the Star that Kenyan dog owners are yet to take rabies control seriously. Though rabies control piloting is ongoing at selected county levels, much more needs to be done to educate Kenyans on the ferocity of the virus and how to avoid it, he said.

Another vet specialist working in the pharmaceutical sector, who declined to be named, said most people do not take their dogs for routine vaccination, as required by the Rabies Act. He also decried the huge number of dogs being left to roam freely, especially in rural areas.

“When dogs are left unattended to, especially in rural areas, they are at risk of being bitten by wildlife, and this kind of rabies is pretty difficult to deal with,” the source said.

Wameyo also decried the poor enforcement of the law, saying unless proper legal regimes are put in place and enforced, “just like in the case of plastic ban or even traffic, ridding the country of the disease by 2030 would be a pipe dream”.  

“In the past, the district veterinary officer kept a powerful poison, 'Strychnine', that he would use to bait and reduce excess stray dog population in certain endemic areas. The idea was if you did not claim your dog, it was classified as stray, hence killed,” he said, calling for the measure's reintroduction.

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