World rabies day – Understand it to defeat it

26 September 2013

World Rabies Day – Understand it to defeat it

Saturday 28th September is World Rabies day and the aim is to raise awareness for the prevention and control of this deadly disease. The theme this year is ‘Understand it, to defeat it’.

Because it is a relatively uncommon disease, general awareness of the disease and its prevention is relatively low. Rabies has the highest fatality rate of any infectious disease, there is no treatment once symptoms develop and all affected humans or animals will die.
Domestic dogs and cats, due to their high level of contact with the human population, pose the main risk to humans, although any mammal can contract rabies. Domestic dogs, livestock, cats and wildlife (including bat-eared fox, yellow mongoose and black-backed jackal) are most commonly diagnosed with rabies in South Africa. Rabies-infected animals have been reported from all nine provinces in South Africa, most commonly from KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape provinces.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) serves as the reference laboratory for investigation of suspected human rabies cases in South Africa. A total of seven laboratory-confirmed and two probable cases of human rabies have been reported in South Africa for 2013 to date. During the previous decade, nearly three-quarters of the rabies victims were children under 16 years of age. The majority of patients reported exposures to domestic dogs.

The key modes of rabies prevention include the following- keeping vaccination of domestic dogs and cats up to date (twice in the first year and then every year in high – risk areas or at least every 3 years in other areas), avoiding contact with unknown and stray or wild animals, and seeking prompt medical care (including rabies post-exposure prophylaxis) after potential exposures.  The rabies virus is transmitted from infected animals to humans through scratches, bites or licks on mucous membranes of the lips or eyes. The virus cannot be transmitted through intact skin, so touching, petting or being close to the animals is not a risk.

Human rabies can be prevented in almost 100% of cases if correct post-exposure preventative treatment is given timeously following exposure to suspected rabid animals.
Preventative measures after exposure to a suspected rabid animal include the following:  washing of the wound very well for at least 10 minutes with water or soap and water to wash out the virus, and a course of rabies vaccinations into the arm so that the person can make antibodies against the rabies virus.  If there is a scratch with blood or a bite the addition of concentrated rabies antibodies into the wound is important to immediately ‘neutralize’ the virus.

Prevent rabies, ensure your dogs and cats are vaccinated regularly.


Diseases A-Z Index



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