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Rabid dogs roam holiday hotspot, kill at least 78
“Culturally, it is difficult to convince people that dogs can carry disease,” Sutedja said. “In the traditional Balinese faith people believe that dogs will take them to heaven.”
Once rabies arrived, the virus spread quickly because a mass vaccination campaign was slow to start. Government officials opted to kill dogs in areas where human rabies cases occurred, using strychnine-filled meatballs and blow darts.
A third of the island’s estimated 600,000 dogs have been killed since the outbreak began, Sutedja said. But he admitted the problem has only worsened with more puppies being born along with a spike in dog bites. Only about a quarter of Bali’s dogs are kept as pets.
“The government doesn’t want to do what everybody tells them from the WHO on down,” said Dr. Henry Wilde, a rabies expert at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, which serves as a WHO collaborating center on the disease. “It’s a virtually hopeless situation.”
Because dogs are territorial, vaccinating an entire village creates a natural barrier to keep rabid strays out, Wilde said. He added that in some cases, vaccinated dogs were being killed. About 70 percent of the dog population must be vaccinated to control the spread of the virus, but so far only about 20 percent of Bali’s dogs have been reached.
The island, known for its sun, surf and shopping, has slowly rebounded from two suicide bombings in 2002 and 2005 that killed more than 220 people. Many hope next month’s release of the movie “Eat Pray Love,” filmed on location in Bali with Julia Roberts, will attract hordes of new visitors.
But Valentino’s father is a world away. He sits quietly outside his tiny two-room brick house nestled among lush banana trees near the western border with Java, about 100 kilometers from the five-star beach resorts and exquisite restaurants bustling with tourists.
Since the dog that attacked his son was killed and never tested for rabies, no one can say for sure whether his boy was infected with the deadly virus. Doctors maintain a rare autoimmune disease was to blame. Sutedja, however, said rabies is the suspected cause because dogs in the village had tested positive for the disease.
“I’m definitely upset, but there’s not much I can do,” said the boy’s father, as a warm summer rain poured down. “My kid is dead and nothing can bring him back.”
Associated Press writers Irwan Firdaus and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.
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