National Institute of Communicable Diseases warns of potential rabies outbreak

THE Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has urged residents around the Cradle of Humankind area in Gauteng to vaccinate their pets against rabies after two confirmed cases and three cases of the viral disease were found in wild jackal in June.

Another confirmed case was found in a honey badger in the same area, at the beginning of July.

According to the NICD, “no human exposures to the jackal were reported; however, there were human exposures to the honey badger”.

The NICD reported in June that a young boy was bitten by a rabid dog near his home in Amathole District, Eastern Cape. The reports states that “the seven-year-old boy was bitten in the face by a stray dog, in an unprovoked attack. On 26 June 2021, the child presented to a local hospital with unusual behaviour, confusion, hiccups, vomiting, and hypersalivation.” The child passed away a few days later.

An investigation into the child’s death by the NICD revealed that incomplete treatment was administered as the child received rabies immunoglobulin and only one of the four required anti-rabies vaccine doses. The World Health Organisation and South African rabies prevention guidelines, all animal exposures such as bites or scratches must be assessed for potential rabies virus exposure and to not delay treatment for rabies.

“A total of six cases of human rabies have been laboratory confirmed during 2021 to date for South Africa. There were three cases reported from Limpopo, two from KwaZulu-Natal, and a single case from the Eastern Cape. A total of 14 laboratory-confirmed cases has been recorded from January 2020 to date, with eight cases reported from the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, five from Vhembe District in Limpopo and one in Amathole District,” the NICD said in a monthly newsletter.

The NICD implores all South Africans to get their pets vaccinated against rabies if they have not already done so and to avoid direct contact with wild animals at all times. If you suspect an animal to be rabid, contact your local or state veterinarian as soon as you can so that authorities can investigate and take action if necessary.

A rabies vaccination campaign is currently being rolled out in Mogale City to curb any further infections, especially in dogs and other pets.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, symptoms of a rabies-infected animal may include “fearfulness, aggression, excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, staggering, paralysis and seizures. Aggressive behaviour is common, but rabid animals may also be uncharacteristically affectionate. Horses and livestock with rabies also may exhibit depression, self-mutilation, or increased sensitivity to light. Rabid wild animals may lose their natural fear of humans, and display unusual behaviour; for example, an animal that is usually only seen at night may be seen wandering in the daytime.”

What to do if you are bitten by a suspected rabid animal:

• Don’t ignore the bite. Wash the wound thoroughly and vigorously with soap and water, then treat with a disinfectant such as ethanol or iodine.

• Call a doctor immediately and explain how you were bitten. Follow the doctor’s advice. If necessary, your physician will give you the post exposure treatment recommended by the NICD.

• Confine or capture the animal only if it can be done safely. Call the local animal control authorities to collect it. If you cannot manage to catch the animal, try your best to recall features such as size, colour, breed or species.

• Report the bite to the local health department or NICD. Prompt and appropriate treatment after being bitten and before the disease develops can stop the infection and prevent the disease.

According to the World Health Organisation, “rabies is a vaccine-preventable, zoonotic, viral disease. Once clinical symptoms appear, rabies is virtually 100% fatal. In up to 99% of cases, domestic dogs are responsible for rabies virus transmission to humans.”

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