PETALING JAYA - The rabies infections in the north likely came from neighbouring Thailand since the infections are concentrated in Perlis, Kedah and Penang.
Nineteen dogs were found with rabies from 64 tested in Perlis as of yesterday; 17 were infected from 31 checked in Kedah; while three out of 15 tested in Penang were rabid.
The Veterinary Services Department said infected dogs could have brought the viral disease into Malaysia which has been rabies-free since 1999.
However, its deputy director-general Datuk Dr Quaza Nizamuddin Hassan Nizam declined to name the country that the infected dogs could have come from.
"We were free from rabies but the disease still occurs in a neighbouring country," was all he would say.
He said it was standard procedure to vaccinate dogs against rabies at the border but these areas were quite porous and an infected animal likely got past.
The department was working with the police to ensure that pet dogs in the three states did not cross borders until the end of the outbreak.
Dr Quaza said it would be costly and time consuming for police to set up roadblocks to enforce this, so he urged dog owners to be responsible.
He warned that the animals would be confiscated and quarantined if the order was disobeyed.
"Even if the dog is later found to be free of rabies, the owner will still be fined," Dr Quaza said.
He advised dog owners to keep their pets within the compound of their homes. They should also keep the animal on a leash when taking it for a walk, even if it has been vaccinated, he said.
Dogs older than three months must be vaccinated.
Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek urged anyone bitten by a dog to seek immediate medical treatment.
As of yesterday, 27 people were bitten by dogs in Perlis; eight in Kedah; and six in Penang. All have been treated and discharged from hospital.