PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia and Thailand will hold talks next month to discuss ways to strengthen disease control between both countries.
"We will contact the Indonesian authorities for a meeting as well," Veterinary Services Department director-general Quaza Nizamuddin Hassan Nizam said.
This came about following a rabies outbreak in Serian, Sarawak, that snatched the lives of three children aged between four and seven in the past two weeks.
A report dated July 6, quoting Health Minister S. Subramaniam, stated that the rabies might have come from infected dogs in Kalimantan where there had been an outbreak.
In an interview with Sunday Star, Dr Quaza said the department was looking into setting up a rabies "immune belt" along the Kalimantan border in Sabah and Sarawak.
He said a risk assessment study would be carried out within the next two months over the probability of future occurrences and to determine how wide the rabies immune belt should be.
Currently, Malaysia has a rabies immune belt, set up since 1955, in an area in northern Peninsular Malaysia ranging 50km to 80km from the Thai border where the authorities are on constant alert for rabies cases.
This is also a programme that requires pet dogs to be vaccinated and the number of stray dogs controlled. Areas in states like Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and northern Perak are covered by the immune belt.
Dr Quaza said a belt has not been created in the area bordering Kalimantan as there were no problems there in the past.
The outcome of the risk assessment study would determine whether a rabies "immune belt" would be created to prevent another outbreak.
"In light of the recent rabies cases in Serian, we are looking into the possibility of setting up an immune belt in areas with human population in Sabah and Sarawak, similar to the one in northern Peninsular Malaysia.
"The DVS will discuss the matter with the veterinary services departments in both states," he said.
He said the study would also determine whether it should be mandatory for the dogs in the bordering areas in Sabah and Sarawak to be vaccinated from rabies - a move which will require the states to amend their veterinary laws.
While most rabies cases happen through dog bites, other animals can also be host to the virus including cats, bats, foxes, jackals and mongooses.
On vaccines, Dr Quaza said the country currently has 20,000 doses of rabies vaccines and it is sufficient for now.
Stressing on the need to intensify preventive efforts, he urged pet owners to protect their dogs and cats by not letting them roam the streets freely and ensure they are vaccinated if they are around the border areas.
"With more development in the country, the space separating humans and animals is shrinking, leading to higher chances of infectious diseases carried by animals.
"The department is constantly monitoring the situation and we have matters under control. But the people must also do their part such as ensuring pets are vaccinated, not allowing their pets to roam and avoid contact with strays," Dr Quaza said.
He said it was important for everyone to know some basic knowledge of rabies, such as the signs shown by an infected animal.
"Such infected animals are usually foaming at the mouth, If bitten, it is important for humans to immediately wash the bitten area with soap and water and seek medical treatment," he advised.
On July 4, a six-year-old girl and her four-year-old brother in Serian, Sarawak, died from rabies.
And on Thursday, a seven-year-old girl succumbed to the disease.