Rabies is a viral disease that causes acute encephalitis in warm-blooded animals, which can be transmitted from one mammal to another - including animal to human spread - better known as a zoonotic disease.
Is rabies really a threat to you and your family? Take a look at the statistics and decide for yourself:
- Rabies affects all warm blooded animals and humans.
- Rabies can be prevented but there is no effective treatment once symptoms are present.
- Although it is a fully preventable disease 55 000 human deaths are reported per year worldwide.
- In South Africa 10-30 laboratory confirmed cases in humans are reported per year with 600-900 animal cases per year. These numbers are deceptively low because people and animals often die from rabies without the diagnosis being made.
- Dog bites are the most common route of transmission to humans.
- Rabies is endemic to South Africa but with a higher prevalence in certain areas (KZN for instance) of the country. In the Western Cape , 6 cases of confirmed rabies were reported for this year (Malmesbury (4), Piketberg (1), Beaufort West (1). All affecting the bat eared fox.
Definitely not a disease we can afford to ignore.
Let’s look at a summary of disease symptoms and prevention.
Symptoms of rabies in animals
Most of us can picture the appearance of a rabid animal:
- vicious and
- out of control.
This is true for the “furious” form.
Rabies can also present in a ‘dumb” form:
Where the animal is not aggressive but appears
- non-responsive and
Other non-specific symptoms:
- Sudden change in behaviour
- Chewing stones
- Paralysis of the lower jaw and tongue (can also affect the legs)
- Loss of territorial instinct – animal wanders around aimlessly
- When a domesticated (tame) animal suddenly becomes wild or a wild animal suddenly becomes tame – rabies might be the cause.
Rabies is 100% preventable.
It is compulsory to vaccinate all dogs and cats against rabies in South Africa.
First vaccine is given at 3 months of age and repeated before patient is a year old. Thereafter a booster vaccine must be administered every 3 years (in some parts of SA, like KZN) and in travelling pets it is usually required to vaccinate every year).
What to do when bitten by a suspected rabid animal.
Steps to take to prevent contracting Rabies:
If you get bitten by a suspected rabid animal you need to take action asap.
- Rinse wound for 5 minutes under running water and get medical attention ASAP.
- If bitten by a domesticated pet ask owner for the dog’s vaccination status. If the dog cannot be traced and there is any suspicion of rabies get medical attention ASAP. Rabies can be prevented if post exposure prophylaxis is given soon after exposure but no treatment is effective once symptoms developed.
- A rabies vaccine can be given to people with an increased risk of exposure to rabies. If you often work with stray animals discuss the possibility of rabies vaccination with your GP.
- But remember even if you are vaccinated against rabies you will still need specific treatment after a suspected rabid bite.
You can help to eradicate rabies by keeping your pet’s rabies vaccine status up to date. Although it is compulsory in South Africa not all pet owners are aware of this legislation.
How to wash a wound and Prevent Rabies:
1. Rabies is a fatal disease. If bitten by a domesticated pet ask owner for the dog’s vaccination status. If the dog cannot be traced and there is any suspicion of rabies get medical attention ASAP. Rabies can be prevented if post exposure prophylaxis is given soon after exposure but no treatment is effective once symptoms developed.
2. Rabies is caused by dog or animal bite or scratch.
3. The Rabies virus in the saliva of the animal is shed on the surface of the wound and ascends through nerves to the brain.
4. Wash the wound immediately with running water and lather with soap, this helps to wash away the virus.
5. Apply antiseptic or alcohol after the wound has been washed.
6. Do not apply chilli powder, milk, leaves or other irritants on the wound as it will not kill the virus, but cause it to spread further.
7. After you have followed steps 4 & 5 above, consult a medical doctor immediately.
8. When you suspect that an animal has rabies, do not approach it but contact your state veterinarian.
Article by: Dr Adel Ferreira