Pune at the Epicenter: Exploring the Surge in Rabies Deaths and Reporting Discrepancies

stray dogs in Pune
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Pune, 4th February 2024: Alarming figures have been revealed by the health department, documenting a stark increase in rabies-related deaths in Maharashtra, with 30 fatalities recorded in 2023, compared to 10 in 2019. Officials attribute this rise over the past five years to improved incident reporting.


Health department data shows a progressive climb in rabies-related deaths, with 29 reported in 2022, 19 in 2021, and 23 in 2020 across the state. Rabies, primarily transmitted through bites from rabid dogs, monkeys, or cats, particularly the former, has become a growing concern.


Pune, in particular, reported 10 rabies deaths last year, constituting a third of the state’s total. However, Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) officials clarified that none of these cases were reported within the city limits. A PMC representative stated that all cases were brought to civic hospitals from areas outside the city.


Dr. Radhakishan Pawar, deputy director of health services for Pune division and the current head of state health services, pointed to improved reporting mechanisms as a contributing factor to the rise in rabies-related deaths. He mentioned a dedicated rabies policy implemented two years ago, focusing on training personnel in reporting and treatment. Pawar emphasized the need for collaborative efforts between health services and the animal husbandry department to address this issue.


Discussing rabies deaths in Pune, Dr. Sarika Funde, head of PMC’s veterinary department, clarified that the city had not reported a single rabies death in the past three years. She explained that patients from other districts or states were brought to Sassoon or Naidu hospitals as a last resort, and their cases were recorded as rabies deaths in Pune.


Rabies, classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a vaccine-preventable viral disease, is virtually 100% fatal once clinical symptoms appear.


State health department data for 2023 reveals over 9 lakh reported animal bite cases in Maharashtra, including 8 lakh dog bites, 60,000 cat bites, 5,000 monkey bites, and 29,000 other animal bite cases. Concerns are raised by animal welfare workers, who highlight the submission of fake cases in the absence of an administrative fact-finding body.


Officials and activists advocate for a well-funded and effective Animal Birth Control program, proper management of roadside garbage, feeding programs for strays, increased awareness, and stronger anti-cruelty laws as potential solutions to address the rising threat of rabies-related deaths in the state.