Health AreasNon-communicable Diseases

Remembering Sharon; fighting rabies, one dog at a time

Some days are simply meant for playing. It was a day after Christmas in Sironoi village in Nandi County in 2003.

The allure of the green countryside was appealing.

Adults and children were enjoying a relaxing time relieving the events of the previous day that had been filled with celebrations; of brothers and sisters who hadn’t seen each other much in the past year.

The younger cousins were playing in the homestead. Eight year old Sharon Jepchumba Korir had joined her cousins to harvest guavas from her grandparent’s compound.

The yield was bountiful. The guavas would make a delicious snack for the children.

However while the reap was ongoing, a dog began chasing Sharon and her cousins. Hot on their heels, the children dropped the guavas and ran in different directions. Unfortunately, the dog caught up with Sharon and scratched her upper back.

The late Sharon Jepchumba Korir Photo courtesy.

Sharon stopped and called her peers. She alerted them that she had been attacked by the dog. The canine took off. The children called the adults and a family decision was arrived at to take her to the hospital immediately.

The dog bite

Sharon’s mother, Dr Agnes Korir explains the turn of events after the dog bite.

“It was a small scratch on her back that was treated at a nearby hospital. We returned home in Nairobi to prepare for the new term at school,” said Dr Korir, a lecturer at Daystar University. Sharon resumed school in January however during the second week of the school term, her parents were called to school.

“Sharon seems unwell,” Dr Korir remembers the teacher’s words. “She was restless, weak and was been vomiting, she adds. She received treatment and given follow-up treatment to take at home.

The restlessness did not go away and back home that evening, Sharon looked for a spot to lie comfortable, but she couldn’t catch some sleep. That night, her mum brought a mattress to the living room but Sharon remained on edge until morning. This prompted a morning hospital visit. At the hospital, Sharon wanted to go to the washroom and as she helped her, she became forceful and attempted to bite her mother’s stomach.

“At this point, I knew something was terribly wrong,” says Dr Korir who shared this with the doctors.

The doctor’s words pierced her words. “We are treating your daughter as a rabies patient. Even if she lives, her heart and brain are dead,” she remembers. Her mind flashed back to the dog bite sustained three weeks ago at their rural home. She was admitted at the Intensive Care Unit but on 13th January, 2004, Sharon died.

The Sharon Live On Foundation was started to create awareness on rabies. Photo courtesy.

Rabies is a viral disease transmitted from animals to humans and known to cause death in all persons who develop symptom with the virus contracted through wounds arising from scratches or bites from an infected animal.

A year later, Sharon’s father’s former track coach Bill Bergan from Iowa State University and former teammate Bob Verbeek founder of GLOZO Sports pledged their support to celebrate her life. The Sharon Live On Foundation was started to create awareness on a disease that kills 2,000 Kenyans annually.

Responsible dog ownership

Dog owners have been tasked to ensure their pets are up to date with effective vaccination regimes to reduce chances of transmission of rabies.

The Sharon Live-on Foundation hopes to close this gap through mass dog vaccination campaigns. The activities are in honour of eight year old Sharon who died from the complications of rabies.

Sharon’s parents – decided to honour their daughter’s life by dedicating themselves to fight the disease and save other people’s lives to the disease.  Dr Korir became a community champion against the disease, and spends her holidays and weekends educating communities of the dangers of failing to vaccinate their dogs. She has also partnered with the county government of Nandi to vaccinate dogs.

Sharon Korir died from rabies after a dog attack. Photo courtesy.

But why are children mostly affected by rabies?

Every year, rabies kills 59,000 people globally. More than 95 percent of these deaths occur in Asia and Africa. . People living in rural areas and children below 15 years are at the highest risk of bites from rabid dogs and death from the disease.

Rabies is misunderstood

Due to their playful nature, children are the most vulnerable group affected by rabies. A dog is more likely to bite if it’s disturbed, feels threatened, or gets overexcited. The initial symptoms of rabies include fever and often pain or an unexplained tingling or pricking sensation at the site of the bite or scratch. Once inside the body, the virus replicates in the bitten muscle and gains access to the Central Nervous System where it inflames the brain and spinal cord and could lead to death. Once inside the body, the virus travels to the nerves and finds its way to the brain while multiplying in numbers where it inflames the brain and spinal cord at which time the clinical signs become visible before death.

Dr Korir explains that rabies is largely misunderstood and not discussed by the general public who loosely refer to rabies as ‘mad dog’ disease due to the aggression portrayed in infected dogs.

Her family has kicked off the conversation and a campaign to ensure that every dog has an up-to-date rabies vaccination, in honour of Sharon.

What are you doing about it?


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