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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November, 2003, 11:12 GMT
China reports sharp rise in rabies
A woman carries her pet dog in Shanghai
China believes a boom in household pets is partly to blame
The number of rabies cases reported in China has risen sharply, with nearly 1,300 people dying from the disease in the first nine months of this year according to state media reports.

The number of deaths reportedly leapt 62% over the same period last year.

Experts believe the growing popularity of household pets is mainly responsible for the surge.

But the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, quoted by the China Daily, also blames the low quality of vaccinations and poor public awareness of rabies.

Correspondents say the number of rabies deaths in mainland China this year is already nearly four times higher than the 349 attributed to the Sars virus which caused panic throughout the country earlier this year.

Rabies killed 1,297 people up to the end of September this year, compared to 1,003 deaths reported by the Health Ministry for the whole of 2002, the China Daily reported.

The paper said that in addition to poor understanding of the disease and the prevalence of domestic pets, the number of stray dogs was also to blame.

Rabies is a fatal virus normally transmitted through the saliva of a range of animals, and its symptoms include fever, spasms, panic, hallucinations, and coma leading to death.

A vaccine will only work when administered immediately after the victim is bitten by a rabid animal, and cannot cure rabies once the virus takes hold.

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