ILOILO CITY -- A total of eight people died of dog rabies in Western Visayas from January until August this year, a Department of Health (DOH) official here said on Monday.

In a press conference, Ame Liz G. Mardoquio, Regional Rabies Program Coordinator of the DOH-6, said four of the deaths recorded are children below 15 years old.

“The youngest victims were two five-year-old children,” she said. However, she refused to give further details about the victims.

The number of deaths due to rabies has prompted health authorities to urge local government units (LGUs) in the region to reactivate their municipal rabies council and enforce ordinances, particularly on responsible pet ownership and impounding of stray dogs, to curb dog bite cases.

Of the eight deaths, the province of Negros Occidental has the highest with four cases and one each in the provinces of Antique, Capiz and the city and province of Iloilo.

Mardoquio said there are also five additional reported deaths from September 1 until September 23, but these are yet to be investigated.

Last year, 14 people in the region died of dog rabies.

Based on the DOH-6 data, the number of dog bite cases in the region already reached 51,967 from January until June this year. Most cases are in Iloilo province with 17,051 while Iloilo City has the least with 804.

Mardoquio urged LGUs to strengthen their vaccination program by vaccinating more than 70 percent of their dog population.

To date, the island province of Guimaras; Boracay in Malay, Aklan; and the island barangays in Concepcion, Iloilo -- Tambaliza, Taloto-an, Makatunao and Butlog Daku -- are considered rabies-free.

She also encouraged victims of dog bites to visit animal bite treatment centers in the region.

“They should not be complacent because a simple scratch can carry rabies. They should always consult a doctor,” she said.

Currently, there are 47 animal bite treatment centers in the region.

Meanwhile, Iloilo province, through its health and veterinary offices, celebrated on Monday "World Rabies Day" with the theme, “Rabies can be prevented, be a responsible pet owner. Share the message, save a life.”

Elementary students from various public schools in the province gathered to compete in the poster making contest and quiz bee in line with the celebration. (PNA)