Rabies: 100% fatal, 100% preventable

Rabies is not a ‘farm animal’ disease; all mammals are at risk of rabies and in South Africa, more dogs carry rabies than any other animal.

That’s why veterinarians are urging pet owners to please vaccinate their pets. You might think you’re safe in the suburbs but rabies is endemic in SA. It knows no borders.

In 2016, there were 2 cases of humans infected with rabies reported in SA; in the first 6 months of this year there were 14.

Rabies is on the rise, and the only way to stop it is to vaccinate.

What can you do to beat rabies?

  1. Vaccinate your pets – cats and dogs – against rabies.
  2. Educate your children to tell you if they have been licked or bitten by any animal. Help them to trust you to tell you this so that they can get treatment if needed.
  3. Teach your kids not to approach animals they don’t know.
  4. Donate to animal welfare organisations that do rabies vaccination campaigns. The more pets that are vaccinated, the lower the risk of the disease spreading to your pets.

What happens if I’m bitten by a rabid animal?

The rabies virus, present in the saliva of an animal, can be transferred to a human through bites, scratches or other wounds that break the skin and allow the saliva to enter the body. It attacks the central nervous system of the host.

Rabies can occur as long as 20 to 60 days after exposure to the virus, but it can also occur months or years after exposure.

Early symptoms are often vague, but can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tingling and intense itchiness at the site of the bite after the wound has healed
  • Anxiety and difficulty sleeping

As the virus progresses, the symptoms become more distressing until death occurs. These include:

  • Severe agitation
  • Aggressive, uncontrollable behaviour
  • Inability to swallow
  • Excessive salivation
  • Seizures
  • An irrational fear of water, triggered when water is offered to drink (hydrophobia)

Sometimes people with rabies do not have these dramatic symptoms, but gradually become completely paralysed and slip into a terminal coma. This form of rabies is more difficult to recognise.

What should I do if bitten?

If you or your children are bitten or scratched by a potentially rabid animal, hold the wound under running water for at least 10 minutes. Wash thoroughly then get to a healthcare facility immediately. Once symptoms appear it is too late.

A health professional will also offer you the following preventative measures:

  • A series of rabies vaccinations (also called post-exposure prophylaxis)
  • Wound care and disinfection
  • A tetanus booster vaccination

Rabies kills nearly 60 000 people worldwide every year. Don’t become a statistic. Don’t hesitate. Vaccinate.