Hyderabad: As Challa Babu pleaded with doctors to save him, the medical staff and his parents watched helplessly. The 16-year-old lost the battle to rabies, a disease that has claimed at least 13 lives in one month in Andhra Pradesh.
These were among more than 13,000 cases of dog bite reported in hospitals across the state, where people are blaming lack of vaccines for the crisis.
People across the state were shocked as news channels beamed the horrific visuals of the boy`s last moments at a government-run hospital in Khammam town recently.
Hundreds of cases of dog bites come in to hospitals every day. The painful and heart-rending deaths, some of them caused by the reported non-availability of rabies vaccine in government hospitals, have so terrified people that some are thinking twice before stepping out of their houses.
As hordes of stray dogs are roaming the streets in towns and villages across the state, health and municipal authorities appear clueless on how to tackle the menace.
Every day, hundreds of people, including a large number of children, are approaching hospitals with bleeding wounds caused by street dogs. In a few cases, the dogs have gone on a biting spree, injuring 30 to 50 people.
Infants with grievous wounds on their faces, hands and other parts of the body are being brought to hospitals every day.
According to health officials, over 13,000 people were bitten by stray dogs in the last one week. While the state has been reporting 30 to 50 deaths due to rabies every year, the number of dog bites reported in recent days is unprecedented.
In East Godavari district, which has reported nine deaths so far, people are standing in long queues outside government hospitals to take anti-rabies vaccine.
"People who are receiving the vaccines are lucky because those sent back by the hospital staff citing non-availability of the vaccines have met a horrible fate," Purna Rao, an agriculturist in East Godavari district, said.
Complaints are so rampant in towns like Rajahmundry and Kakinada that the medical staff is turning people away. "Since the vaccine costs Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 in private hospitals, many people with dog bites can`t afford it," he said.
The government has, however, denied that there is a shortage of vaccines and claims that over 700,000 vaccines are available.
"The deaths are mainly due to the fact that people are not approaching government hospitals immediately for vaccine and are depending on quacks or some home remedies," state Health Minister DL Ravindra Reddy said.
People are also complaining about lack of serious efforts and coordination among municipal bodies, animal husbandry and health departments to tackle the problem.
According to officials, there are over a million stray dogs in the state, which means there is one dog for every 77 human beings. The municipal authorities are reluctant to control the canine population by killing them in view of the cases filed by some NGOs in the past, accusing them of cruelty to animals.
"I had never faced this situation. I am afraid to step out of the house even during day time. Even if you are on a bike, they will chase you," said P Naveen, a student in Rajahmundry, where four people died of rabies.
Last year the state had reported 20 deaths due to rabies. In 2008, the figure was 42, but the highest figure -- 113 -- in the last one decade was recorded during 2005.
The health authorities in the state are worried over shortening of the incubation period. The people bitten by dogs are developing rabies symptoms in 15 days to one month against the usual incubation period of six months to one year.
The early symptoms of rabies are fever, headache and weakness. Later these lead to insomnia, partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, difficulty in swallowing, and hydrophobia or fear of water.
According to experts, there is nothing a doctor can do after a person develops rabies and he dies a painful death. The only way to prevent rabies is to get vaccinated immediately after the dog bite.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 35,000 people die of rabies in India every year - accounting for about 81 percent of global deaths. About 96 percent of rabies deaths are caused by dog bites. In no other country in the world do such large numbers die of rabies.
There is no reported case of survival of a person affected by rabies and considering the pathetic state of the patient, death is often seen as the only solution.