Rabies is fatal but 100% preventable: Animal owners urged to vaccinate their animals Together with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and as part of World Rabies Day on 28 September 2020, the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) urges pet- and animal owners to vaccinate their animals against this deadly disease.
Rabies is a zoonotic disease (a disease transmitted from animals to humans) that causes damage to the human brain and spinal cord and is uniformly fatal. The virus is transmitted through contact with the saliva (i.e. bites, licks, or scratches) of an infected animal.
“A person dying of rabies is an unnecessary death,” says Dr Nomsa Mnisi, Vice President of the SAVC, “if a disease is preventable by purely vaccinating animals, we should not be seeing people, especially the most vulnerable like children, dying.”
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) rabies is estimated to cause over 70 000 human deaths annually in over 150 countries, with 95% of cases occurring in Africa and Asia.
“We want to urge pet owners to vaccinate their animals, and to vaccinate rigorously,” says Dr Mpho Maja, Director of Animal Health at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, “on average animals should be vaccinated every three years, but in high risk areas, annual vaccination is recommended .”
Although most people associate rabies with dog bites, other animals such as cats, mongooses, jackals and other wild animals can also infect people.
Animal owners will see a change in their pet’s behaviour if infected, as a rabid animal tend to behave strangely, often aggressively. They also experience muscle paralysis, produce lots of saliva and experience difficulty in swallowing. Dr Maja explains that wild animals may even lose their fear of humans and become strangely tame. Cows and sheep with rabies may appear to have something stuck in their throat.
“Vaccinating our animals is the only way to eradicate this disease,” says Dr Mnisi. Currently, there is no treatment available for human or animal rabies.
In the event of being bitten by a dog in a rabies outbreak area:
- Wash the wound / exposed area with running water and soap for between 10 to 15 minutes.
- Immediately go to your nearest clinic/doctor. (District surgeon)
- Inform your state veterinarian/ Animal Health Technician (AHT) so that they can inspect the animal, determine the risk, and test for rabies if necessary.
- Depending on the exposure category, the clinic/doctor will start the relevant postexposure prophylaxis protocol (with day zero of treatment being the actual date of exposure or as close to this day as possible).
- The State Veterinarian will revert with results from the suspect animal to determine if post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) should continue or be discontinued and if the local dog and cat population requires a rabies vaccination campaign.
As part of World Rabies Month, people should vaccinate their animals by visiting their local veterinarian, state veterinarian, or animal health technician (AHT). Together #RabiesEndsHere.