In the run-up to next week’s World Rabies Day commemoration, the North West government has kicked off its free rabies vaccination drive at different state veterinary offices across the province.
Experts warn that rabid animals are not only a risk to people, but also to the health and well-being of livestock and pets. The North West department of agriculture and rural development is now urging all pet owners to take the necessary precautionary measures.
According to the department, this call is being made to prevent cases of rabies in the province and forms part of the World Rabies Day commemoration on Tuesday, 28 September. This is a global animal health campaign.
Dr Mpho Maja, director of animal health in North West, says rabies is known to be zoonotic. This means the disease can be transmitted from animals to humans. The virus is transmitted through the animal’s saliva, usually when it bites.
“If you get saliva through biting or if a rabid animal licks an area where the skin has been scratched or has a wound, you’ll get transmission through that. It kills once animals and people start showing signs of the disease,” she says.
Signs of infection
Maja adds that infected animals tend to behave strangely, often aggressively. They also experience muscle paralysis, produce lots of saliva and experience difficulty swallowing.
Wild animals may even lose their fear of humans and become strangely tame.
Cows and sheep with rabies may appear to have something stuck in their throat.
Other symptoms are related to a dysfunctional nervous system. According to Maja these are classified either as “dumb form” or “aggressive form”. In the dumb form, infected animals show signs of lethargy and progress to facial paralysis.
Experts, however, warn that people are extremely susceptible to rabies. Rabies is transmitted via domestic animals like dogs and cats. Once infected, these animals tend to bite anything, including humans. People are advised to report any suspicious symptoms of rabies in humans, and dog bites, to any health facility in the province.
Maja says rabies is fully preventable. “If we were to vaccinate our pets and make sure that we improve the immunity of our pets, we can prevent the spread of rabies.”
She also urges the agricultural community to consider vaccination. “We vaccinate animals and mainly pets, but we don’t vaccinate livestock generally, unless there is an acute outbreak in livestock in the area.”
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