Ecuador’s Ministry of Health is getting assistance from physicians at HCJB Global Hands’ Hospital Vozandes-Quito (HVQ) to help quell an outbreak of rabies in a remote area of the country’s Amazon region.
On Wednesday, Dec. 7, Dr. Mark Nelson, together with personnel from the Ministry of Health, traveled from Ecuador’s capital to Morona Santiago province where the virus recently claimed its 12th victim.
The following day from Taisha he called his wife, Dr. Laurie Nelson, to say that he and others were coordinating radio promotions and a vaccination campaign. Some 240 health workers have arrived in Taisha to attend to more than 50,000 people in a 12-mile area around the canton.
The rabies outbreak began nearly three weeks ago among the Achuar people in and around the community of Taisha. Children have also died in the Achuar communities of Tarimiat and Tsurit Nuevo in the canton of Taisha. Others have been hospitalized in Macas after displaying symptoms such as convulsions, fever, headaches and drooling. The communities are accessible by air or canoe, but not by motor vehicle.
HVQ’s medical director, Dr. Richard Douce, is also assisting with investigations into the outbreak. Newspaper reports consistently attribute the rabies to vampire bats that inhabit the area. Douce is an infectious diseases specialist, and Nelson, a family physician, speaks basic Achuar and served on numerous mobile medical clinics in the jungle while working at Hospital Vozandes-Shell.
Staff members from HCJB Global Hands responded to the crisis after being contacted last weekend by an Ecuadorian physician, Dr. Natalia Romero, who graduated and later taught in HVQ’s family practice residency program. She now works as director of epidemiology in the Ministry of Health.
On Thursday, Dec. 8, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa declared a 60-day health state of emergency in the Taisha canton as well as a dozen surrounding communities.
Rabies can be contracted by all mammals and is fatal. It manifests itself either as paralytic rabies or as furious rabies (also known as classic rabies or canine rabies), according to Encarta Encyclopedia.
A vampire bat inflicts wounds with razor-sharp teeth while the subject sleeps, then laps blood for several minutes. Most often bats ingest the blood of livestock, birds and other mammals and “rarely on humans.” But in Ecuador’s jungle where people sleep in open-sided shelters, bat bites are not uncommon.
The Achuar of southeastern Ecuador and northeastern Peru belong to the Jivaroan language family. Their language is similar to that of their relatives and once-mortal enemies, the Shuar, formerly known as the Jívaro.
Previously, in November 2005, Hospital Vozandes Shell received a rabies victim. Douce then responded to a Ministry of Health request to investigate rabies in Jatun Molino in Ecuador’s eastern province of Pastaza. Seven people died in that outbreak.