The theme for this year’s World Rabies Day, is ‘vaccination for elimination’. And preventative vaccinations for your dogs is the best way to stop the spread of the disease.
So far this year, eight cases of human rabies have been reported by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), from KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Limpopo. Two deaths have been classifed as probable rabies one in KZN and one in the Eastern Cape. Globally an estimated 55,000 deaths occur per year due to canine rabies.
While our Department of Agriculture and Rural Development holds regular vaccination clinics in areas that are prone to rabies, all pet owners need to ensure their pets are vaccinated.
Dogs and cats need to be vaccinated before they’re three months old. The second vaccination is at three months, the third at a year and then annually after that.
Vet Dr Fyvie says, “In South Africa, the disease is still very present, particularly in our rural areas where many dogs are not vaccinated against the virus. In addition, rabies is commonly reported among stray or feral dogs and cats.”
Often it is children who are most likely to come into contact with a rabid animal, being more inclined to pat and play with them.
According to the NICD, ‘Rabies is spread to humans and other animals through contact with saliva or tissue of infected animals, scratches, bites, licks on broken skin and mucous membranes of the lips or eyes. The majority of human exposure to rabies in South Africa is linked to dogs’.
They advise that if think ‘you have been in contact with an infected animal, seek immediate medical attention. You should immediately flush and wash the wound warm water and disinfectant or just warm water if contact with eyes). Advise the doctor of your suspicion, as they will not only notify the relevant authorities but will also administer the correct treatment protocol. If you wait to get medical attention and the rabies symptoms set in the disease will be fatal’.
Dr Fyvie provides some tips on how to keep you and your family safe from rabies:
- Children under the age of 15 make up 40% of the reported cases of being bitten by a suspected rabies-infected animal. It is important to warn your children of the risks of interacting with strays and pets that are not theirs or that are acting differently.
- Never take a chance. If bitten, scratched or in contact with their saliva, assume the worst and follow the treatment protocol. There is simply nothing that can be done once the symptoms present themselves.
- Ensure your pets’ rabies vaccinations are up to date and if you are in an immediate outbreak area, have your pet revaccinated. If you can’t provide proof of a pet’s vaccination status, and your pet encounters a rabid animal, it will be euthanised regardless of whether or not your pet is showing symptoms.
- Never let your pets roam the streets.
- Do not let your pets interact with unknown animals. An animal can become infected by fighting with another animal, even over a fence.
- Do not approach stray dogs or cats, especially if they are showing abnormal behaviour, such as being aggressive or very docile.
- If you suspect an animal is infected, contact the health authorities immediately. Do not try to restrain the animal yourself.
- Donate to a welfare organisation that conducts rabies vaccination outreach programmes. The higher the vaccinated animal population, the less chance there is of an outbreak.
“As pet parents we should all be doing our part in helping to raise awareness and reduce rabies fatalities in South Africa,” says Dr Fyvie.