June 8, 2006

Rabies Deaths Jump in China as Pet Population Grows

BEIJING -- China's booming southern province of Guangdong has reported more than 300 deaths from rabies last year, the highest number in a decade, as its increasingly affluent population buys more dogs, state media said on Thursday.

Rabies killed 306 people in the province last year, up 24.9 percent from 2004, the China Daily said.

"As living standards keep increasing, more people feed dogs, and this increased contact means more chance of infection," Professor Guo Xiaofeng of the South China Agriculture University (SCAU) was quoted as saying.

Pet dogs were shunned in the days of Mao Zedong as a symbol of bourgeois decadence and dog is still a popular restaurant dish. But pets have become increasingly popular in the last decade with improved living standards.

Last year, 330,000 people sought treatment for rabies in Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong, and 500,000 were vaccinated. There were 1.5 million reported dog bites or scratches.

Guo also said that education about rabies in rural areas, where most infections took place, was important to encourage people to vaccinate their dogs against the disease.

Some 2,660 people died of rabies in China in 2004, according to Ministry of Health figures.