Rabies kills more than 55 000 people every year and most are children younger than 15 years of age yet canine rabies is completely preventable.
Commemorating World Rabies Day (September 28), the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA) said rabies was mostly transmitted via dog bites. It urged pet owners to have their pets vaccinated against this fatal disease. “Vaccination is the most reliable, sustainable, and cost effective way to prevent rabies in people,” SAVA said.
South Africa reports about 10 rabies deaths annually; in July a Free State farmer’s daughter, six-year-old Carlie du Plessis (6), became the second known victim of the killer virus this year. The first was a 16-year-old school boy from the Zululand district who died in January.
In June, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development launched an intensive vaccination campaign in Gauteng after rabies was found in four jackals and one unvaccinated domestic dog in the Muldersdrift, Kromdraai and Lanseria areas.
Somerset West veterinarian Dr Ingrid de Wet of Country Animal Clinic in Scholz Road, warned that any mammal could contract rabies – even those living in surburban areas.
“There have been a number of rabies cases in the Western Cape recently and we need to be aware that our animals and families are at risk if our pets are not vaccinated.”
It is an urban myth that rabies is confined to farms and rural settlements. Urban and suburban pets coming into contact with other mammals, including cats and bats, are also at risk. People tend to associate rabies with images of dogs foaming at the mouth but rabid animals don’t necessarily do this. In many instances dogs may have rabies without their owners even realising until it dies and an autopsy reveals the cause of death.
Symptoms of rabies usually take anything from 20 to 60 days to manifest, however in 3-5% of cases it can take up to 18 months. Symptoms include flu-like sore throats, headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, depression, restlessness and insomnia.
Diagnosing rabies in its early stages, especially if a doctor is not told about an animal bite, is not easy, as the symptoms are varied and can appear to be the symptoms of many other diseases.
Vaccinating pets against rabies is a legal requirement in South Africa.
“Don’t put your pets and family unnecessarily at risk. Rabies vaccinations are easy to administer and most animals tolerate them very well. They are not painful,” said Dr De Wet.
“Vaccinating your pets will not only save their lives but will also protect your family and the other animals and people they may come into contact with”.
Dr De Wet recommended the following vaccination schedule for dogs and cats:
Puppies must be vaccinated against rabies when they have their third series of combination vaccines against diseases like parvovirus and distemper (at 12-16 weeks) and again, within 9 months. It’s easiest to get the first vaccination at 12 weeks and then a month later at 16 weeks. After the second vaccination, rabies vaccinations are administered at least every three years, although due to recent rabies outbreaks in the country yearly vaccination is now recommended.
At 12 weeks of age and then within nine months of the first vaccination. After the second vaccination, rabies vaccinations are administered every three years. The repeat vaccination programme follows what is recommended for dogs (see above).
- For advice on vaccinations call Country Animal Clinic on 021 851 1500.