Faizel Patel – 23/09/2020
As the world prepares to acknowledge World Rabies Day on 28 September, the latest stats from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that up to 59 000 people die from rabies annually, amounting to an alarming figure of one rabies death every 10 minutes.
While COVID-19 has increased our germ protection awareness, controlled unnecessary movement, and prohibited large gatherings, all decreasing seasonal cold and flu numbers what it’s also unfortunately led to is a setback of several public health programmes, including rabies.
According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) Centre for Emerging Zoonotic and Parasitic Diseases, there may have been rabies cases that have gone unrecognised and unreported.
Initiated in 2007, World Rabies Day this year will be acknowledged under the theme ‘End Rabies: Collaborate, Vaccinate’, will again raise awareness about the disease and bring together partners to enhance prevention and control efforts worldwide.
Major health organisations including WHO, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations have pledged to eliminate human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies by 2030.
While rabies is a 100% vaccine-preventable disease, it’s unfortunately a neglected one, especially in developing countries in Africa and Asia. According to WHO, 56% of global human rabies fatalities occur in Asia and 44% in Africa.
Dr. Guy Fyvie Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s veterinary advisor explains that dog bites cause almost all human rabies cases in South Africa, and globally, with vaccinations being the most effective way to reduce the risk of this disease. Although the tried-and-tested strategies for controlling and preventing the disease exist, it is not always prioritised and invested in. Locally the disease is still very present, particularly in rural areas where many dogs are not vaccinated against the virus. In addition, rabies is commonly reported among stray or feral dogs and cats.
In South Africa it is law that pets are vaccinated against rabies. Dogs and cats should receive their first rabies vaccinations before three months of age. They’ll receive their second vaccination at three months, a third within 12 months, and annually thereafter.
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. Sadly, it is children who are especially at risk of encountering rabies infected animals, as they are more inclined to want to play with them.
Dr Fyvie adds affected animals also lose their fear and will approach people and places they normally don’t.
“Parents should therefore keep a close eye on their children and discourage them in all circumstances from interacting with feral, stray or unfamiliar animals that may be acting abnormally.”
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, they may be euthanised, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms or not.
- 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.
Dr Fyvie says as pet parents we should all be doing our part in helping to raise awareness and reduce rabies fatalities in South Africa and If not dealt with effectively, rabies could once again become a serious public health pandemic.”