Rabies is on the rise again in Bali as the disease has already claimed 12 lives this year, a significant increase over last year's two fatalities and 2013's one.
The latest case was reported on Monday, as 24-year-old I Komang Kartawan was suspected to have died from rabies after a puppy bit a finger on his left hand last month. He died at Sanglah Hospital in Denpasar.
"From the clinical symptoms and the fact that the patient had been bitten by a dog, we can conclude that he died of rabies," head of Bali Provincial Health Agency, I Ketut Suarjaya, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Suarjaya said that rabies tests could not be conducted on Kartawan because the patient was experiencing seizures, therefore it was too risky to take his blood for the test.
Since 2008 there have been a total of 160 people die from the disease, said the official.
He said rabies has been rising again on the resort island since earlier this year. Prior to that the local government had boasted that this year the province would be free from rabies.
"We should revise the target now," Suarjaya acknowledged.
Data at the provincial husbandry agency showed that Bali has a population of 500,000 dogs. Of them, only 5 percent are properly nourished. although a further 70 percent are owned by residents, they are left to live as stray dogs. The remaining 25 percent do not have owners.
According to data at the provincial health agency, Bali recorded four cases of rabies in 2008. The figure increased to 28 the following year and climbed to 82 in 2010.
In 2011 the number of rabies cases was down to 23, and then to eight in 2012 following the launching of a mass animal vaccination program in Bali.
For their achievements, the Bali provincial administration received awards from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in 2013 for its success in preventing and mitigating rabies.
Buleleng has the highest number of fatalities, with five victims, followed by Bangli where two people have died. Other cases have been in Badung, Tabanan, Gianyar, Karangasem and Klungkung.
Denpasar and Jembrana are free from the disease.
"But now we can not be sure that those two regions are rabies free. Everyone should remain alert," Suarjaya said.
To help curb the disease, Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika has implemented a culling of wild dogs across the island, a policy that many NGOs and animal lovers have been criticizing.
Responding to the critics Pastika said that the Balinese were different from Europeans who nourished their pets properly and gave them regular vaccinations. In Bali, most people leave their dogs on the street without proper care.
"Rabies must be eliminated because human life is more precious than dogs' lives. We all love animals but what else can we do? We have to prioritize human life," Pastika said.