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World Rabies and dog bite prevention month

Categories: ALL THE NEWS , Animal Welfare, Health
The fact is that rabies is a disease that is still relevant and able to touch all our lives, even in our urban life.

You may have recently watched the Carte Blanche expose on the two children who died horrific deaths in KwaZulu-Natal from Rabies. The one child was in a rural area and died after being bitten by an infected dog. The other child was on holiday and was bitten by a resident feral cat where they were staying.

The fact is that rabies is a disease that is still relevant and able to touch all our lives, even in our urban life. It is fully preventable, and all dogs and cats should be vaccinated at 3months of age followed by a booster between one and nine months later, with a booster vaccine given every three years according to the Animal Diseases Act, 1984 (Act No.35 of 1984).

But the most important part of rabies is the human factor with children under 15 years of age being most at risk due to their close contact with pets, especially dogs, often resulting in multiple bites to the face and head. These children are often living in poor rural areas with unvaccinated pets and little access to healthcare facilities. If the correct post-exposure treatment is sought and given immediately following exposure, there is a 100% chance of survival. If not, once infected, symptoms can take a few weeks to a few years to develop depending on how virulent the strain was, the quantity of virus inoculated and how close the bite site was to the central nervous system. Symptoms are non-specific and may include headaches or fever, then nervous signs such as agitation, sleepiness or confusion. Once these symptoms develop though, death usually occurs within a few weeks. It is the only infectious disease with a 100% mortality rate.

Approximately 55 000 people a year die of rabies, mostly in Africa and Asia. Rabies is a disease that targets the brain and while all warm- blooded animals are vulnerable to infection, only mammals (and humans) can act as reservoirs for the disease and transmit it. In South Africa, the domestic dog is the main animal host for the disease, with the black backed jackal, bat eared fox and mongoose the main wildlife hosts. Rabies is carried in the saliva of infected animals, and as recent cases have shown, does not only get transmitted through bites, but also through scratches, licks on broken skin and rarely when the mucous membranes of the eyes or lips are licked. In very rare cases, corneal transplantation has been proved to be a cause of infection.

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