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Rabies still kills in South Africa - but it doesn't have to

Sunday 28 September is World Rabies day and the aim is to raise awareness about this fatal disease. There is a misconception that rabies is no longer a problem.
Rabies has the highest fatality of any infectious desease and all human and animal victims will die. The virus that causes rabies disease is transmitted to humans through the salivia of a rabid animal. In Africa an estimated 24 000 people die every year from rabies, most of them children under the age of 10. The tragedy of the disease is that these deaths could have been prevented had timeous and correct vaccination been administered. Once symptoms present, death is inevitable, very painful and traumatic.

Dr Lucille Blumberg of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases says “between 10 and 30 cases of human rabies are laboratory confirmed in South Africa every year. Most cases involve bites by rabid dogs, but this is an underestimate of the actual number of cases as many cases go undiagnosed.” Blumberg explains: symptoms generally appear anywhere from 10 days up to a year ater a exposure, and once these symptoms appear, nothing can be done to prevent what is a truly horrible death.” While Rabies occurs throughout South Africa, it is particularly widespread in the north-eastern regions of the Eastern Cape, the eastern and south-eastern areas of Mpumalanga, Northen Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal. Our country is also one of only a few countries where rabies is endemic in both dogs (urban rabies) and in wildlife species (sylvatic rabies).

Responsible pet ownership is a key factor in the control of Rabies. By law all pet owners throughout South Africa must take their dogs and cats for routine vaccinations, rabies vaccinations. People who have close contact with animals, especially sick animals like animal welfare workers, and veterinarians should be routinely vaccinated. Travellers going to remote endemic areas should also consider getting vaccinated before their travels. It is also important for parents to teach their children not to touch animals that do not belong to them, and children must also inform their parents if an animal has scratched or bitten them.

It is important that people are aware of the symptoms of a rabid animal, which include behavioural changes (e.g. wild animals appear unusually tame while domestic animals often become aggressive), salivation, abnormal vocalisation, and incoordination.

Blumberg stresses that if you should be bitten by stray animal or one that appears aggressive without provocation, it is critical that you, - wash the wound very well with soap and water and then immediately consult a medical practitioner who will consider rabies vaccination and application of immunoglobulins. Once symptoms of rabies develop there is no effective treatment. Symptoms and signs of rabies include initial headache and fever, muscle pains, fear of swallowing water, hallucinations, muscle spasms, difficulty in swallowing, convulsions and eventually coma and death.

Rabies is included in the World Health Organizations list of the top 10 infectious causes of mortality around the world, but deaths are preventable. Blumberg hopes that World Rabies Day will help dispel the misconceptions surrounding rabies, raise awareness of the disease and overall, make a difference in the fight against this disease.

For more advice please call the sanofi pasteur Vaccine Helpline on 0860 160 160 or consult your medical practitioner and ask about the vaccine.


Editorial contact
Megann Outram
Tel: +27 11 772 1035
Cell: +27 083 320 7577
Email:

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