JAKARTA Indonesian authorities aim to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of dogs on the resort island of Bali in an effort to stem an outbreak of rabies that has killed 100 people since 2008, a government official said on Thursday.
Thousands of feral dogs have been infected since a 2008 outbreak on the previously rabies-free island, which attracts hordes of tourists and is the setting for part of the recently released film "Eat, Pray, Love."
Authorities have begun a mass dog vaccination program in recent weeks, with the aim of inoculating 70 percent of a targeted 450,000 dogs by March.
"Sixteen teams have been working and we will develop at least 10 teams in every regency," Putu Sumantra, head of the Bali Animal Husbandry Department, told Reuters by telephone.
Arie Rukmantara, a disease expert at the U.N. children's agency UNICEF, said that when the outbreak started in 2008, Bali faced a shortage of vaccines and rabies had spread to livestock.
"Cattle cannot spread rabies, they just die," he said. The outbreak is thought to have originated from an infected dog introduced to the island in 2008.
Each year, more than 55,000 people die of rabies in Asia and Africa with rabid dogs being the source of 99 percent of human deaths from the disease, according to the World Health Organization.
The rabies virus spreads through the central nervous system and causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
The most cost effective way to prevent the disease in people is by eliminating it in dogs through vaccination.
"Bali is taking the most effective route to protecting the health of its citizens, as well as the thousands of tourists who visit the island every year," said Mike Baker of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, which has financed Bali's vaccination program. The Bali Animal Welfare Association, which is helping with the vaccination, adopted the slogan "Feed, Spay, Love" for a pilot round of inoculations -- a play on the title of the movie starring Julia Roberts that was partly filmed in Bali.
(Additional reporting by Ee Lyn Tan in Hong Kong; Editing by Sunanda Creagh and Robert Birsel)