Date: Wed 19 Feb 2014
Source: Global Alliance for Rabies Control [edited]
Dog butchering exposes Nigerian meat handlers to rabies
A study conducted in southeastern Nigeria, whose native population consumes dog meat as part of the
traditional diet, detected the rabies virus in the saliva and brain tissue of 5 percent of slaughtered dogs.
Researchers also confirmed that butchers take few precautions around symptom-free dogs prior to
slaughter, using their bare hands to muzzle animals without using adequate protection against bites,
potentially placing butchers at high risk for contracting rabies.
A recent rabies outbreak in neighboring Cross Rivers State in Nigeria claimed the lives of 8 people who
suffered dog bites, showing that rabies is a growing regional problem.
To gain a clearer understanding of the extent of rabies in the area, researchers sampled saliva and brain
tissue in 100 local dogs slated for butchering and tested them for the presence of rabies virus. The
results of tests on saliva and brain samples were in agreement, and all positive cases of rabies (5 percent)
were from apparently healthy, asymptomatic, indigenous breeds — confirming that dogs slated for
consumption shed the virus in saliva at the time of butchering.
Because dog meat is habitually consumed, and local butchers are unable to screen out infected animals
and remove them from the food supply, the handling of infected dog meat may have implications on
regional public health. There is potential for virus transfer if fluids or nervous tissues of infected animals
come into contact with breaks in the skin before the meat is cooked.
In addition to the challenges of screening dogs for rabies, researchers found that a lack of rabies
vaccination (for both butchers and dogs), unsafe dog handling habits, and low levels of formal education
placed local butchers at high risk for rabies infection. A questionnaire distributed to 19 butchers of dog
meat revealed that nearly all meat handlers (94.7 percent) had been bitten in the past during the
butchering process, none were vaccinated, and very few had sought appropriate medical treatment
(27.8 percent) — preferring traditional medicines based on local plants and ashes instead.
No data was collected to correlate exposure to infected dog meat to the number of rabies infections in
people, but the study confirmed that the rabies virus can be present in seemingly healthy dogs in the dog
meat trade in Nigeria.
This poses an additional risk to butchers, their suppliers, and their customers. By disclosing the risky
butchering practices in Nigeria, this study may encourage health authorities to provide targeted rabies
education to the local population so that dog slaughter can be highlighted as an additional source of
(Contributed by Laura Baker, a scientific writer and GARC volunteer, based on the publication by
Mshelbwala, Ogunkoya and Maikai in ISRN Veterinary Science, Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 468043,
–Communicated by:Shamsudeen Fagbo <email@example.com> via NBM List
[This warning is but a reiteration of a similar communication in March 2009:
Rabies, via dog/cat butchering – Nigeria 20090329.1212
“Plus ca change…” and if the risk is not perceived, any stray dog with rabies will only get reported when
it has bitten and killed a human. I would not be surprised if some 10 to 25 percent of these dog butchers
already have antibodies. There is an unfortunate corollary to these — the higher the herd immunity (in
the dog butchers), the less likely they are to pay it any attention, get themselves vaccinated, or even
push for stray dog control and vaccination. – Mod.MHJ]