Rabies deaths in Kerala: Supreme Court to pronounce interim order on 28 September

Alarming number of dog bites and deaths despite vaccines raises question on Kerala govt’s handling of the situation.

BySreerag PS

Published Sep 06, 2022 | 6:27 PM Updated Sep 09, 2022 | 8:59 PM

Stray dogs in Kerala.

The Supreme Court on Friday, 9 September, heard all cases related to Kerala’s stray dogs and said it would pronounce an interim order on 28 September.

The apex’s court’s hearing today came after an urgent mention was made before the Chief Justice of India earlier this week over the unchecked incidence of dog bites in Kerala.

More than 95,000 cases have been reported this year in the state, official data show.

In a related development, the Kerala government said it wants to assess the efficacy of the anti-rabies vaccine it uses after a 12-year-old girl died of the disease at a Kottayam hospital on Monday, despite being vaccinated thrice.

Kerala’s Minister for Health and Family Welfare Veena George said she had sought the Centre’s help in this connection.

What the court said

On Friday, a bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and JK Maheshwari directed all parties, including the government of Kerala, to table recommendations to resolve the crisis immediately.

The apex court sought the report from the Justice Siri Jagan committee regarding the current situation on the dog menace in Kerala. The court also enquired whether the state government could follow the central government directives and kill dogs that turned violent after contracting rabies.

However, the Kerala government requested the court to allow it to take action against stray dogs as per the state government’s rules.

The death that shook Kerala

Abhirami, a native of Ranni in Pathanamthitta district, died at the Government Medical College in adjoining Kottayam on Monday, where she was undergoing treatment for dog bite wounds.

She is the fifth to have died in the state of rabies in the past two months, even after taking anti-rabies vaccination.
The National Institute of Virology in Pune confirmed the presence of rabies virus in her body.

It is still not clear whether the child had been bitten by a stray canine or a house dog; what is known is that she had been administered three rounds of anti-rabies vaccination.

The girl’s family has accused the district hospital in Pathanamthitta, where she was initially admitted, of being negligent in treating her.

“When we reached the hospital, they asked us to buy a soap and clean our daughter’s wounds. She had a big gash near her eyes. If the doctors suspected this bite wound could lead to further infection, why didn’t they refer the case (to bigger hospitals)?” asked Abhirami’s mother in an interview to Mathrubhumi News.

Response from Kerala government

Hours after her death, Health Mminister George said her government would probe the Pathanamthitta hospital for medical negligence, if any.

“There should not be even a single rabies death,” she told reporters. “We will address the concerns of the public and take necessary action.”
A day later, on Tuesday, George said in a Facebook post that she has written to Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, “seeking a directive” to re-examine the quality of the anti-rabies vaccine.

“The letter was sent as five people died in the state despite having been administered both the anti-rabies vaccine and serum, which has created anxiety and fear among the public,” she wrote in her post.

The minister stated that all five deaths were given the vaccines that are approved by the Central Drugs Testing Laboratory.

The state government has also constituted a seven-member committee under Dr Thomas Mathew, director of Kerala’s Department of Medical Education, to study the efficacy of the vaccine.

Plea in the Supreme Court

Meanwhile, in a mention before the Supreme Court on 5 September, advocate VK Biju said Kerala has witnessed a “spike” in the number of dog bite cases in the last five years.

The mention noted that “Kerala has become ‘Dog’s own country’ from ‘God’s own country’”, and observed that a staggering number of one million dog bite cases were reported in the state in this period.

He also mentioned Abhirami’s case; the 12-year-old was in a critical condition at the time the mention was made.

Biju also requested that the present status of Justice Siri Jagan Commission — constituted by the Supreme Court in 2016 to deal with complaints on dog bites and compensation for victims — be made known.

In response to his urgent mention, the Supreme Court agreed to hear all cases relating to stray dogs in Kerala on September 9.

Cases of Dog bites in Kerala

On 26 July, the Union Minister of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying Parshottam Rupala, in response to a question from Alappuzha MP AM Arif in the Lok Sabha, reeled out dog bite numbers in Kerala that reflect the enormity of the problem in the state.

He said the number of cases fell from 81,118 in 2020 to 51,018 in 2021, probably due to the Covid-19 related lockdowns, but increased drastically to 95,352 till July this year.

(The story has been updated with details of the Supreme Court’s 9 September hearing)