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A Most Potent Rodent

Disturbing Development in Bali's Rabies Epidemic: Rats May be a New Vector for the Potentially Fatal Disease.

(1/18/2010) The latest and what may prove to be the 13th death attributed to rabies in Bali, since the disease surfaced in 2009, took the life of a 46 year-old Balinese woman, Ni Nyoman Koming, of Tabanan on Thursday, January 14, 2010. Admitted to the Tabanan Hospital with symptoms suggesting rabies, the patient and her family insisted she had not suffered a dog or domestic animal bite, but had been bitten by a rat two months earlier.

While pathology tests are still pending, Dr. Gede Sudiartha of the Rabies Center at the Hospital said, "the clinical symptoms of the patient prior to her death - including fears of wind generated from fans, light and water, are similar to those of someone suffering from rabies."

To date, all rabies cases in Bali have been linked to dog bites. And while officials say the most common vectors for rabies worldwide remain dogs, cats and monkeys - it is not implausible that the disease can be spread by rodents.

Dr. Sudiartha told beritabali.com: "90 percent of rabies cases in Indonesian are due to dog bites. Other cases are tied to monkey and cat bites. Cases linked to rat bites are heretofore unheard of."

If the rodent population is infected with rabies, this may have occurred by a rat biting a rabid dog, a rabid dog attacking a rat, or the rat eating from the carcass of a dog that had died from rabies. To prevent spreading the disease, those culling animals suspected of rabies must burn the carcasses or bury them deeply.