AUSTRALIANS bound for Bali have been assured there’s no need to be vaccinated against rabies despite an outbreak of the virus blamed for at least seven deaths.Almost 40,000 dogs in Bali’s densely populated south have been vaccinated and 2000 strays culled since the outbreak in early September.In the past two months more than 800 victims of dog, cat and monkey bites – including at least one Australian – have been vaccinated in Bali.The most recent death was a Balinese woman arrived frothing at the mouth at Sanglah Hospital. Hours later she was dead. Three months prior she’d been bitten by a dog that entered her home.

Balinese authorities are at great pains to assure travellers that any health risk is low.”It’s all under control now,” Made Badra, Veterinary Department chief, said.”We just say to tourists to be careful and if they get bitten by a dog, cat or monkey, go straight to hospital to get a vaccine and you will be safe. You don’t need a vaccine from your country.”

It’s the first time rabies has surfaced on the Indonesian resort island and the government is blaming the outbreak on animal smugglers feeding demand among the rich for imported pedigree dogs.Corrupt border control agents have been accused of taking bribes to let in dogs from all over Indonesia, including areas where rabies has long been present.

But the rabies outbreak, and the threat it poses to Bali’s tourism industry, has seen authorities enforce the strict prohibition of dog imports that until last year had kept the island free of the virus.Dr Andre Dita from Bali’s Sanglah Hospital says seven Indonesian deaths have been linked to the outbreak. Tests have confirmed three of those deaths were indeed from rabies.

But he says the real toll could be much higher because Balinese may not have recognised rabies symptoms and could have attributed deaths to other causes.The doctor notes the flood of people coming in for shots after being bitten by animals.Most doctors echo the advice given to travellers that there’s no need to be vaccinated for rabies before heading to Bali for a holiday. They note that vaccinations given soon after any bite are effective.

“We still wouldn’t routinely recommend rabies vaccinations for short-term travel to Bali, but we’d certainly recommend people take care to avoid close contact with dogs and monkeys,” Western Australia’s Dr Raphael Beilin said

But he says anyone planning to stay longer than a month in any part of Indonesia should consider getting a rabies vaccination.