WORLD RABIES’ DAY – ‘ONE HEALTH, ZERO DEATHS’
Johannesburg, September 2022: There is no time to waste since rabies is taking lives and having a tragic effect on our communities, friends, families, and our beloved pets. This year, on 28 September, South Africa will join the rest of the world in commemorating World Rabies Day which brings to light one of the globe’s most persistent diseases that is not sufficiently dealt with, often due to ignorance or indifference. It is lethal. We can however overcome rabies by taking the necessary precautions and by remaining aware of it.
This year the GARC (Global Alliance for Rabies Control) is emphasising the theme of “Rabies: One Health, Zero Deaths”. The idea of “One Health” is hugely significant because it emphasises that, as demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the health of humans, animals, and the environment are all inextricably linked and interdependent. Only through an inclusive approach of collaboration and participation in all related sectors can this lethal disease be eliminated.
The concept of “zero deaths” relates to the well-known fact that most human rabies deaths are caused by exposure to rabid dogs, and that transmission can be prevented through vaccinating dogs (and cats) and treating humans immediately after being exposed to a suspected rabid animal. Through a joint approach and a well-coordinated effort, the global target has been set as: “Zero by 30: a global strategic plan to eliminate dog-mediated human rabies deaths by 2030”.
Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means that people can become infected by an infected animal. The virus is shed in saliva and is spread mainly by the bite, scratch or lick of an infected animal. Rabies affects the brain and is fatal once a person or animal shows clinical signs. Animals infected by rabies show changes in behaviour and neurological symptoms. They may salivate, become paralysed, are unable to swallow, continuously vocalise, and become aggressive or non-responsive.
If someone gets bitten by an animal and there is reason to suspect it may have rabies based on the animal’s behaviour and history (e.g. it is not vaccinated), then one needs to wash the wound well with soap and running water for at least 10 minutes and immediately seek medical attention (rabies preventative treatment will include a series of rabies vaccines and immunoglobulin injected into the wound if the skin has been breached). Bite victims can still receive immunoglobulin up to seven days after initial treatment, although it should be administered immediately. Pet owners need to keep in mind that not only stray dogs can be infected with rabies, but that rabies can also be transmitted to unvaccinated household pets via saliva, not only a bite.
Although rabies is endemic throughout South Africa, dog rabies outbreaks are common in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and along the Free State – Lesotho border (as in photo).
It is estimated that this terrible virus kills at least one person every nine minutes around the world. More than 59 000 people die from rabies each year and about 95% of these deaths occur in Africa and Asia, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health. It is critically important that all pet owners have their dogs and cats vaccinated to protect both humans and animals against this disease.
The core message for all South Africans, from all walks of life, is to vaccinate their pets (a legal requirement) – it is never too late to vaccinate. The first rabies vaccine is given at 12 weeks (three months) of age, followed by a booster vaccination between one and 12 months later. Thereafter, a booster is required every three years. In high-risk areas, annual vaccination is strongly recommended.
Let us unite with the rest of the world to prevent this terrible disease through One Health and zero deaths, in the run-up to World Rabies Day and beyond.
Image courtesy of Mr Kevin de Roux, Chairperson: Rabies Advisory Group
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