The Vietnamese government's campaign to eradicate rabies by 2015 is clashing with a fringe agricultural demographic: dog farmers.
As if running a dog farm wasn't difficult enough.
As I found out in 2009, when researching the series "Dog Meat Mafia," there are reasons most cultures don't farm dogs that run deeper than moral hangups.
Unlike cows, dogs don't just gently plod around and munch grass. Corralled into close quarters, they fight. They swap skin diseases. They reek.
To all that, add a new worry for Vietnam's dog farmers: notifying the government every time a dog is bought, sold or killed. To track and stamp out rabies, Vietnam's government wants a full headcount of every canine occupying homes and farms, the Thanh Nien newspaper reports. Farmers are telling the outlet that this new rule amounts to a bureaucratic nightmare.
Vietnam copes with recurring spikes in rabies cases. The state-run Vietnam News counts a whopping 240 deaths in northern provinces since 2010 and contends that "increased public awarness" is vital in stemming the disease's spread.
Part of the problem is that, while dog-borne rabies spreads to humans in most societies through bites, it also spreads in Vietnam through consumption. Eating an unvaccinated dog -- even after cooking -- appears to pose a rabies transmission risk,according to a study backed by the South East Asia Infectious Disease Clinical Research Network.
A hospital case study offered by the report is worth quoting at length:
"Two months before admission, the patient had butchered and consumed a dog that had been killed in a road traffic accident. The patient took the dog's carcass home where he first extracted all the teeth with a knife. He mentioned he did this as a preventive measure against rabies, as he was aware of the presence of rabid dogs in his neighbourhood. He then singed the hide to remove the hair. This was followed by opening the skull to remove the brain, which was then steamed in leaves and eaten. During this butchering, the patient wore workman's gloves but no other protective equipment. The patient did not recall receiving any cuts or other injuries during preparation of the dog. Others who ate parts of the same dog remained well. All parts of the dog were cooked prior to being eaten."
The sad price paid for that free meal?
"Six days after admission, the patient was taken home by his family to die."