As part of World Rabies Awareness Month, the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development urges that all dog and cat owners vaccinate their pets against rabies, a deadly disease for humans and animals alike.
Rabies is a contagious viral disease that causes damage to the brain and the spinal cord and is uniformly fatal. It affects both animals and humans and is caused by the rabies virus.
According to Dr Mpho Maja director of animal health, rabies is known to be zoonotic, which means that 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 then get transmission through that. It kills once animals and people start showing signs of the disease,” she says.
Maja adds that rabid animals tend to behave strangely, often aggressively. They also experience muscle paralysis, produce lots of saliva and experience difficulty in swallowing. She says wild animals may even lose fear of humans and become strangely tame. Cows and sheep with rabies may appear to have something stuck in their throat.
There is no treatment available for human or animal rabies and so far, there have been few reported recoveries, says Maja.
“There have been two or three global recoveries in a lifetime. There is still research work going into that, but it kills almost 100% once you start showing clinical signs, but once again it is also 100% 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.”
Rabies cases have been reported all over the country sporadically, however rabies is relatively more common in domestic dogs in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Free State and Limpopo. In addition to dogs, many other animals can transmit rabies. In South Africa, these most importantly include cats, livestock, yellow mongoose, black-backed jackal and bat-eared fox.
According to Maja there is a vaccine for livestock. “We vaccinate animals and mainly pets, but we don’t vaccinate livestock generally, unless there is an acute outbreak in livestock in the area. There is a vaccine for people, but because of the scarcity and expense it is only reserved for high risk professions like vets, so you would not find it freely available for yourself,” she says.
The high-risk professions also include game rangers and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) workers.
Since prevention is better than cure the Maja says the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) collaborated with the World Veterinary Association to dedicate September as a global rabies awareness month and World Rabies Day on the 28th of September – this way the entire world raises awareness on the prevention of rabies in September.