Sabah bans live animal imports from Sarawak over rabies fears

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KUCHING: The rabies outbreak in Sarawak has prompted neighbouring Sabah to ban the movement and transfer of live animals from the state.

Sabah Deputy Chief Minister cum Agriculture and Food Industry Minister Datuk Seri Yahya Hussin has ordered the state Department of Veterinary Services to cancel all import permits and tighten checks at all entry points into Sabah.

The order came after the Sarawak Health Department earlier today declared a “health alert” after three children, aged between 4 and 7, were reported to have been infected with rabies.

“I believe that this is the first reported case in East Malaysia, and I am relieved to say that Sabah is still free from rabies,” Yahya said.

He also called on people in the state to be alert and to report animals, particularly dogs showing rabid behaviour, to the authorities.

Meanwhile, Sarawak Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Prof Dr Sim Kui Hian said culling stray dogs in Serian could be an option to contain the spread of the disease.

Dr Sim, who is in charge of the health portfolio in Sarawak, would not say if culling had begun.

However, in a Facebook post, he said the health department, the Sarawak Veterinary Department, the Serian district council, and the Sarawak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) “has started to work together immediately to contain rabies in Serian”

The three children, two of them siblings, are reported to be “seriously ill” and are in the intensive care unit (ICU) of Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) in Kuching.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said urine and saliva samples, and skin biopsies of the victims that were sent to the Institute for Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur had tested positive for rabies virus.

The first case was a 4-year-old boy from Kampung Paon in Sungai Rimu.

Dr Noor Hisham said the boy had a fever on June 5, and was sent to the Balai Ringin health clinic that same day for outpatient treatment.

He said when his condition worsened and showed signs of “breathing difficulties, changes in behaviour, became aggressive and had signs of hydrophobia (fear of water)”, he was referred to the Serian district hospital on June 8.

The next day, he was transferred to SGH.

Dr Noor Hisham said the boy was believed to have been bitten by a rabid animal “two to three months” earlier.

The second case was the boy’s 6-year-old sister. She came down with fever on June 12, and first sought treatment at the same clinic in Balai Ringin two days later.

When she showed the same symptoms as her brother, she was rushed to SGH.

The third case was a 7-year-old girl from Kampung Lebur in Gedong.

She too initially was treated for fever, but when she had a seizure, she was brought to SGH.

Dr Noor Hisham said it could not be ascertained if the third victim had been bitten by a dog.

Malaysia had not reported a single case of rabies in 15 years.

DAP Sarawak meanwhile called on the government to open government veterinary clinic in different towns “to give the public affordable and better access to the animal clinic services to make sure disease like this a preventable”.

They also called on local councils to step up their efforts to rounding up stray dogs in the area.

“These dogs should not be culled but given the required medical attention if needed and be properly quarantined.” –