The simple answer is yes. Bali’s rabies outbreak began in 2008 and by the end of 2010 more than 100 Indonesians had died of the disease. Many of those who died were bitten by dogs but had not sought treatment and once physical symptoms appear the disease is 100% fatal.
Attempts to get the outbreak under control have been bumbling to say the least. Half-hearted attempts at wide scale culls have occurred (against the wishes of the island’s small, but very vocal, animal rights supporters as well as general UN guidelines) and after a few false starts, a vaccination program aiming to vaccinate 70% of the island’s dogs is gathering some momentum.
In the meantime people continue to be bitten and die, while foreign governments have issued travel warnings regarding the problem.
So what should you do? While, in the scheme of things, the risk is quite low — the streets are not awash in roving hordes of rabid animals — we would say that getting your rabies shots, especially if you have young children, would be prudent. You will find collarless dogs on many of Bali’s beaches and kids all too often are attracted to them.
Dogs that have been vaccinated will have a red collar or sash around their necks, or a red tag hanging off their proper collar, but given many people run their own dogs unleashed (and sans any kind of collar) on the beach, it’s very difficult to know for sure if the dog is safe. Our personal approach is to not let our kids near any dogs unless we know for certain that it has been vaccinated (that is, it’s a friend’s dog).
So far there has been no firm evidence of rabies crossing over to the island’s massive monkey population, but were that to happen, it would definitely increase the argument for getting your shots.
Samantha Brown is a reformed news reporter. She now edits most of the stuff you read on Travelfish.org, except for when you find a typo, and then that's something she wasn't allowed to look at.
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