Top canoeist and Underberg farmer critically ill with suspected rabies

2012-05-07 00:00

UNDERBERG farmer and top canoeist Graeme Anderson is in a critical condition, fighting off probable rabies after taking in a stray dog.

Anderson, who is well known in agriculture, as well as in canoeing circles as a “daredevil” extreme sportsman, could not recall anything out of the ordinary about the dog he picked up in Underberg village and took home five or six weeks ago, a close family friend, Dr Grant Lindsay, said yesterday.

“To him at the time it was a non-event. He saw the dog wandering around in the village. As an animal lover he took it home and gave it shelter. When it got sick and died he buried it without further ado.”

Lindsay said Anderson was never bitten by the dog and no one had considered that it might have been rabid.

People can contract rabies through the saliva of an infected animal, usually through a cut or graze.

Lindsay has been appointed spokesperson on behalf of Anderson’s family who are keeping a vigil at his hospital bedside.

He said Anderson was holidaying in Mozambique during the recent long weekend with his girlfriend, Karen Crouch, and a long-time friend from Underberg, Guy Taylor, and his wife, when he became ill and returned home.

His condition worsened and he was admitted to hospital on Wednesday.

“He was put in intensive care on Friday and that is where we’re at,” said Lindsay.

Although there has not been a definite diagnosis and tests are ongoing, Lindsay said there was a “high possibility” that Anderson had rabies.

The body of the dog had been exhumed and tested, but due to decomposition of the brain the test results were inconclusive, he said.

Anderson was sedated and on ventilation and was being cared for by a team of doctors, said Lindsay.

Anderson farms beef and crops with his parents, Mark and Trish, in Underberg. He has a BSc in wildlife science from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg.

His sister, Kerry, and her husband, Jeremy Venniker, run a lodge on the farm.

“Graeme is a very tough man … one of the top extreme sportsmen in South Africa, and has been involved in kayaking in the Amazon with Tim Biggs and Ross O’Donoghue,” she said.

In February 2008 Anderson was the winner of the sixth Thrombi X-Fest in Thrombosis Gorge on the Umzimkulu River. This is described as an annual extreme sports festival that attracts “daredevils and adrenaline junkies”, according to media reports.

Underberg veterinary surgeon Todd Collins told The Witness that rabies was rife in rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and in Lesotho, not far from Underberg. He confirmed that the virus could be contracted through the infected mucus or saliva of a rabid animal, and that a person did not have to be bitten.

It is, however, extremely rare for humans to contract rabies, which can be prevented by vaccination if one is aware one might be at risk.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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