While rabies is a deadly disease, it is preventable and people should not be dying of it, rabies experts said on World Rabies Day on Wednesday. Experts on the disease met on World Rabies Day to discuss and share information on rabies control, prevention and treatment programmes. The meeting was organised by the Department of Health in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Sanofi Pasteur and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
It can be prevented if one seeks health care immediately but when you develop the symptoms, it's already too late … you will die," warned Department of Health Chief Director of Communicable Diseases, Dr Frew Benson.
Senior Medical Scientist in the Centre for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases of the NICD, Dr Jacqueline Weyer, said rabies post-exposure prophylaxis was effective if used correctly to prevent the development of rabies. She, however, raised concern at the reoccurring human rabies cases due to lack of awareness on the disease.
"Patients don't seek treatment after being bitten by [rabid] dogs. Children don't tell their parents or if they do, parents just wash the scratch and don't send the child to the hospital to get treatment. "We can prevent 100% fatality by using post-exposure prophylaxis. The disease is preventable, we need to vaccinate dogs," Weyer said.
Most infections occur through animal bites, but scratches or licks on broken skin are also possible routes of infection. Signs of rabies in animals include fearfulness, aggression, excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, staggering and seizures. Weyer said events such as World Rabies Day had an important role to play in raising awareness about the disease.
"Rabies is a public health problem that could be a success but it's not going to go away if we just look away." Deputy Director of Animal Health in the North West, Dr Michael Swart, warned too that if animals were not being diagnosed for rabies, the disease could not be controlled.
He said in order to prevent animal rabies, dogs and cats should be vaccinated and their vaccination records should be kept up to date.
"To avoid human rabies, if bitten, the animal must be tested for rabies. Avoid contact with wild animals, especially those behaving strangely," Swart said. Conducting awareness campaigns to inform the public about rabies was amongst the recommended control measures.
According to the World Health Organization, rabies causes up to 55 000 human deaths globally per year, accounting for one death and 300 exposures in every 15 minutes.
Almost all human fatalities occur in developing countries, with 56% occurring in Asia and 44% in Africa.
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