The Wild File: Rabies Outbreak

Your urgent inquiries about the world. Answered.

Monica Murphy

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Q. Should I worry about visiting Bali, given the rabies outbreak?

Stages of Canine Rabies

14–40 days after bite
Changes in behavior; chewing at the bite site; feverFURIOUS PHASE
2–3 days after prodromal phase
Vicious attacks on anything, including inanimate objects; constant growlingPARALYTIC PHASE
2–4 days after furious phase
Slack jaw; foaming at the mouthDEATH
2–4 days after paralytic phase

A. In a word, yes. The virus, which is spread through saliva and is fatal, was likely introduced in 2008 when a taxi driver from a neighboring island brought his sick pup over by boat. Since then it has run wild among the Balinese dog population—despite the government’s calls to slaughter at-risk dogs.

“Culling without vaccination is not going to work unless you get rid of every last dog—and we have a special relationship with dogs, so that’s not a possibility,” explains Deborah Briggs, executive director of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, a global nonprofit that funds and coordinates anti-rabies campaigns. Rabies is now rampant on Bali: thousands of dog bites are reported monthly, human vaccines are in short supply, and as many as 92 people have died from the disease since 2008. The U.S. and Australian governments have advised travelers to consider an expensive rabies vaccination series before traveling to Bali, but for many of us, three $250 shots in the arm are reason enough to seek paradise elsewhere. The Balinese have begun an island-wide vaccination of dogs in hopes of halting the epidemic.

Will it work? Briggs believes that rabies can be effectively eliminated on Bali if local organizers raise the vaccination rate among the remaining dogs to 70 percent. In the meantime, she hopes that education can get Bali’s residents and visitors to avoid dog bites—and to insist on immediate treatment when bitten. Yes, this means more shots.