The Distemper Problem
During my first visit to Taray, I was shocked by how many sick cats and dogs there were. Almost all of the animals had fleas, some had hernias, wounds from fights, scabies, and worst of all, some had distemper.
Distemper is a highly contagious and potentially lethal disease. It causes severe illness in the host by attacking multiple body systems, resulting in a widespread infection that is difficult to treat. Dogs with distemper experience a wide range of symptoms depending on how advanced the disease is in their bodies. Once a dog becomes infected, the virus initially replicates in the lymphatic tissue of the respiratory tract before moving on to infect the rest of the dog’s lymphatic tissue, the respiratory tract, the GI tract, the urogenital epithelium, the central nervous system, and optic nerves.
The first case of distemper that we came across in the village was of Benito, a sweet dog that was brought to us during my first day in Taray. After a while we noticed that Benito had a constant twitching on the upper side of his body, so our head vet concluded that he had suffered from distemper, but managed to survive. The twitching was permanent, irreparable nervous system damage left by the disease.
Later that same day, Simba, a very weak dog was brought to us. He had a fever, respiratory problems, no energy, and was twitching. After a thorough exam, our veterinary team concluded that he was also likely infected with distemper. They gave him some medicine to ease the symptoms but sadly there is not much else to do, other than trying to give the dog a good quality of life.
After that, we came across three more dogs with signs of early distemper or lasting consequences of distemper infections. Much like the cases of Benito or Simba, there is not much to be done, since these dogs are already infected.
The Role of Vaccination
The most problematic part of the story is that these dogs are free roaming the streets of Taray, so the disease gets spread all around the village. Given that almost all dogs in rural areas of Cusco only have their rabies vaccine, they are prone to catching the disease and getting very sick, or worse, dying. Distemper is a disease that has no cure, so the only way to prevent and eradicate it, is by vaccinating the dogs when they are puppies, and by applying annual boosters.
This is why our health and education campaigns play a vital role in rural areas of Cusco. By offering free vaccinations (for distemper and other preventable diseases) and teaching people about the importance of getting their dogs the proper care, then we can help prevent dogs from suffering and dying from these preventable diseases, in villages like Taray.