Rabies is fatal but 100% preventable!
What is Rabies?
Rabies is a vaccine-preventable, viral disease prevalent in Africa and Asia and is one of the oldest infectious diseases known in medical science. In up to 99% of cases, domestic dogs are responsible for rabies virus transmission to humans through bites or scratches, usually via their saliva.
What animals can get rabies?
Rabies affects all mammals, domestic and wild; your pets – cats and dogs, livestock – cattle, horses, goats, and wild animals - black backed jackals, bat eared foxes, to name a few.
All can transmit rabies to humans however contact with a rabid dog is the main cause of nearly all human rabies deaths.
What are the signs of rabies in animals?
Animals with rabies usually display uncharacteristic behaviours that indicate they may be infected. There are two types of rabies, Furious and Paralytic. Signs of infection may include:
Out of character behaviour
A voracious appetite, chewing stones and dirt
Confusion, running in circles
Excessive drooling at the mouth
Staggering, paralyses and lapsing into a coma
Wild animals may appear tame and approachable
Do not engage with animals displaying signs of rabies - contact your nearest vet, state vet or SPCA. Animals with suspected rabies, if they haven’t already died - rabies is fatal - are humanely euthanised and tissue samples sent for testing to confirm rabies.
What to do if you suspect you have been bitten by, or have come into contact with a rabid animal?
Immediately flush and wash the wound for a minimum of 15 minutes with soap and water, detergent, povidone or iodine. This will help remove and kill the rabies virus.
Get to the nearest medical facility as fast as possible for treatment - starting treatment soon after an exposure to rabies can effectively prevent the onset of symptoms and death - rabies is fatal.
What are the symptoms of rabies in humans?
The onset of infection can vary from a week to a year and is dependent on various factors. Initial symptoms of rabies include a fever with pain and unusual or unexplained tingling, pricking, or burning sensation at the wound site. As the virus spreads to the central nervous system, progressive and fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord develops.
As with animals infected with rabies there are two forms of the disease:
Furious rabies results in signs of hyperactivity, excitable behaviour, hydrophobia (fear of water) and sometimes aerophobia (fear of drafts or of fresh air). Death occurs after a few days due to cardio-respiratory arrest.
Paralytic rabies. This form of rabies runs a less dramatic and usually longer course than the furious form. Muscles gradually become paralysed, starting at the site of the bite or scratch. A coma slowly develops, and eventually death occurs.
How to prevent rabies in animals
Rabies is a vaccine-preventable. Vaccinating your pets, dogs and cats, is the most effective strategy for preventing rabies - your pet need never contract rabies.
Puppies should be vaccinated at 3 months and a booster given a month later followed by a second booster within 12 months of the first vaccination. Rabies is endemic to KwaZulu-Natal, so pets must be vaccinated annually. Even if you live in an area where rabies is not endemic it is advisable to vaccinate annually in case of an outbreak. Consult with your local veterinarian, state veterinarian, or animal health technician for advice.
How to prevent yourself from contracting rabies
Educate yourself and your family regarding dog behaviour and bite prevention. Do not engage with animals displaying signs of rabies - contact your nearest vet, state vet or SPCA. If you are living in a remote region or where rabies is prevalent – like KZN – speak to your doctor regarding immunisation to reduce risk.