A two-year-old Johannesburg child was recently confirmed to have died of rabies after being scratched by an unvaccinated domestic puppy.
The disease was also confirmed in 11 dogs in the greater Johannesburg area as of 3 October, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD).
Dr Pete Vincent of the Netcare Travel Clinics and Medicross Family Medical and Dental Centre, Tokai, said rabies reports were rare in Gauteng.
However, once introduced into an area the disease could spread quickly if domestic pets had not been vaccinated.
The rabies virus is passed on via the saliva of an infected animal.
A bite, scratch or lick from an infected animal may cause the infection to be passed on, although the latter is only likely to be a problem if the child is licked on an open sore or a mucous membrane.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the disease, as they tend to want to touch animals, are lower to the ground and often unaware of the potential dangers involved.
Therefore, in many cases, they are bitten more severely than adults.
While rabies is more common in rural areas, it can exist in suburban areas, as is now the case in Gauteng. Feral cats could potentially carry the disease and infect domestic pets if they came into contact.
Feral cats are usually attracted by easily accessible food and therefore tend to inhabit areas near high numbers of rubbish bins, such as shopping centres or housing estates and townships.
If you know of any feral cats living nearby contact the NSPCA on 011-907-3590.
They will be able to offer advice on what actions should be taken and will intervene with vaccinations if there is a high risk of infection.
Having your domestic animals vaccinated against the disease is a legal requirement and provides you with protection as it can prevent your pet becoming infected if a rabid animal bites it.
The Johannesburg SPCA is administering free rabies inoculations up until 10 November.
Details: JSPCA 011-681-3600.
How to identify infected animals: Dogs are the main carriers of rabies to humans.
Be wary of dogs, cats, bats and meercats. Monkeys are usually too agile to be infected by a bite.
Rats are rarely reported to carry rabies.
Animals infected with rabies may look normal, but behave unpredictably. Any strange behaviour in domestic animals, especially if they are foaming at the mouth, must be regarded with suspicion.