"Only during last week, 12,800 people have reported dog bites. We have spent Rs 39 lakhs to give vaccination to them. There have been 11 deaths due to rabies this year so far," P V Ramesh, Prinicipal Secretary (Health), told PTI here.
Opposition parties and media reports have, however, claimed that the deaths due to rabies are higher than the official figures.
Maintaining that there is no sudden spurt in the deaths due to rabies this year, Ramesh, however, agreed that stray dogs posed a threat to the people.
"There is no unusual rise in the number of deaths this year compared to previous years. This year 11 people died so far. 23 people died due to rabies in 2010 and 54 in 2007," Ramesh said.
The deaths because of rabies raised a massive public outcry in Andhra Pradesh as the deaths of several persons were painful and heart-rending.
In Khammam district, a boy died shortly after pleading with doctors to save his life while his wailing family members watched helplessly. Ironically, he died minutes after state minister R Venkata Reddy visited him and assured all help from the government.
The family members alleged that doctors at the local government hospital turned the boy away when he approached them for treatment after being bit by a stray dog.
In East Godavari district, where most of the dog bites and deaths have been reported, a rabies-infected man bit his wife as his condition aggravated. He died subsequently.
The incidents, shown on news channels, evoked widespread condemnation and outcry among the public.According to some estimates, there are over 10 lakh stray dogs in the state and their massive number led to dog bites and consequently infecting the victims with rabies.
"The main reason for the sharp increase in the number of stray dogs is a sense of fear among personnel of municipalities, panchayats about court cases. The animal rights activists filed cases in courts in some cases and this has led to the personnel stopping measures to keep a check on the stray dogs," Ramesh said.
The government has directed concerned parties to file a review petition in the courts, he said.
The dogs need to be removed from human habitations as they are posing a threat to human existence, he stressed.
"Even endangered animals like tiger can be killed if they attack humans. We have to make a choice between human life and animal life," he said.The Chief Minister has held a meeting with municipal and panchayat authorities and directed them to take steps for removing the dogs from residential localities, he said.
Asserting that there is no scarcity of vaccines in the state, he said the government would take action against hospital staff if they refuse to provide treatment to the dog bite victims.
"We have vaccines for five lakh people. So there is no question of scarcity. We have asked all government hospitals to compulsorily provide treatment to the victims. If any government hospital says the vaccine is unavailable then they can complain to our helpline number 104," Ramesh said.
The government would also conduct a campaign to raise awareness on dog bites and rabies, he said.
The government has immunised 2.10 lakh people last year against rabies and about 1,80,000 were immunised in 2006, Ramesh added.