Federal Department of Health figures show 1129 people nationwide were treated in 2013 with rabies immunoglobulin post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which is used to treat bites and scratches by animals in a country with endemic rabies or by bats in Australia. This is a 55 per cent increase on the previous year (the comparison does not include Victorian data because 2012 data is not available.)
State Department of Health figures show the number has remained steady in WA with 254 people treated with PEP in 2013 compared to 259 in 2012.
A WA Department of Health spokesman said in both years, the majority of people were treated with PEP after being exposed to animals in Bali, with about three quarters of those having monkey bites and scratches.
Dr Choong said this highlighted the need for people not to touch animals in overseas countries, despite no cases of terrestrial rabies imported into Australia reported in the past 12 months. ‘We don’t realise the risk,’ he said.
‘In some countries, rabies is prevalent throughout the monkey population and they are everywhere.
‘They are wild animals and not pets, and shouldn’t be patted or touched.’
The WA Department of Health spokesman said it was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain human rabies immunoglobulin from overseas.
‘(This) is owing to increasing demand worldwide and a reliance on human donors for its manufacture,’ he said. ‘Australia has adequate supplies at present although vigilance is required to ensure supplies remain so.’
Dr Choong said anyone who is bitten or scratched by an animal overseas should seek medical attention and if treatment has commenced, to visit a doctor upon return to reassess the wound.