Wednesday 28th September is World Rabies Day. This year marks the 10th year of this event. The following information was kindly supplied by Valley Farm Animal Hospital as a circular reminder containing a little more information of what rabies is all about.
It is estimated that worldwide at least 55 000 people die of rabies every year. Rabies cases in humans occur more commonly among children, the reasons being that approximately 40% of bite victims worldwide are children and children are commonly bitten in the face which means a much shorter incubation time for this deadly disease. The whole of South Africa is considered a Rabies endemic area and is unusual in the fact that we have both canine and sylvatic (wildlife) reservoirs for the disease.
What is Rabies?
Rabies is a preventable disease caused by a virus that is transmitted from animals to humans primarily via bite wounds and scratches. The Rabies virus, present in the saliva of affected animals, infects the central nervous system and affects the brain causing paralysis and death. A human cannot contract rabies by touching or being bitten by healthy dogs and cats; and the virus cannot be transmitted through intact skin, so touching, petting or being close to animals is not a risk.
Animals in South Africa that are mostly responsible for human infection are dogs, black-backed jackals, yellow mongeese and bat-eared foxes; but cats, cattle, sheep and goats can also be affected.
What are the symptoms of Rabies?
A rabies infected animal, sometimes also referred to as a rabid animal, most commonly will show behavioural and temperamental changes, e.g. tame animals becoming aggressive or wild animals losing their fear of humans, appearing to be tame. Other signs may include drooling, inability to swallow, muscle weakness, incoordination, seizures and biting at inanimate objects, disorientation and paralysis.
Symptoms in humans appear within two to twelve weeks after infection. These are initially flu-like, including fever, headache and fatigue, progressing to confusion, agitation, hallucination, anxiety, fear of water, delirium, paralysis, coma and death. Once an infected human starts showing signs of rabies, no treatment is possible and death will occur in two to ten days.
International organisations, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), recommend that domestic animals should be vaccinated against rabies to prevent them from becoming infected with the Rabies virus and transmitting rabies to humans. Vaccination of dogs and cats is the only effective way in which rabies can be controlled in these domestic species.
How can Rabies be prevented?
As rabies causes death in humans following the onset of symptoms, the question should be how one can protect yourself, your family and your pets against rabies. The three most important steps are:
- Have your dogs and cats vaccinated against rabies every year.
- Teach your children how to react around dogs in order to prevent dog bites:
- Do not touch or pick up stray dogs, as their rabies vaccination status is unknown;
- Always ask the owner before you pet a dog;
- Keep their faces away from a dog’s face;
- Never bother a dog when it is eating, sleeping or with puppies;
- Never bother a dog when it is in a car, behind a fence, or tied-up – even if it is a dog you know.
- In the event of being bitten by a dog in a rabies outbreak area or suspected of having rabies:
- Immediately wash the wound with soap and water or disinfectant for 10 minutes;
- Immediately after washing the wound, go to your nearest clinic where rabies antiserum will be given and a course of vaccinations will be started. Being bitten by an animal with rabies will result in death unless preventative treatment is started immediately;
Report the bite to your nearest state veterinarian, animal health technician or private veterinarian.
Puppies and kittens begin their rabies vaccines at 3 months of age. To ensure they remain protected against this deadly disease they need regular booster vaccinations. KZN regulations state that it is compulsory to have dogs and cats vaccinated every year against rabies. The vaccine used does not contain live Rabies virus so is very safe but effective. All dogs and cats should be vaccinated.
The official mass Rabies vaccination drive on the South Coast is done in February each year. Vaccinations against Rabies can also be done at the Lower South Coast SPCA or private veterinary practices.
Official proof of Rabies vaccination will be in the form an official signed vaccination card. If you do not have proof, or your pets’ vaccinations is outdated, you can phone Vet Hospital Port Shepstone for a vaccination consultation on 039 682 2433.