Rabies alert: pet owners urged to vaccinate

2019-11-27 06:02
Doctor Isla Mackellar examining a patient. photo: supplied

Doctor Isla Mackellar examining a patient. photo: supplied

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UMVOTI Animal Hospital issued a warning to local pet owners to be on high alert after two animals tested positive for rabies in Greytown recently.

Speaking on the issue, Jane Wessels from the Umvoti Animal Hospital said: “We have submitted another two animals from the district in the last two weeks which have tested positive for rabies. One was a goat and the other a puppy.”

Wessels said KwaZulu-Natal is currently experiencing an upsurge in animal rabies.

“The total number of dogs that have been submitted for testing in KZN in 2019 now sits at 117. Remember that this figure is the number submitted. Often the rabid animals, especially in the rural areas, run and eventually die or else are shot and buried without being tested and therefore counted.”

Wessels said there have been six confirmed rabies-related human deaths in KZN so far this year. All six cases were from bites from dogs where no treatment was sought.

She said rabies is a viral disease that is often fatal but; if the wound is immediately washed with soap and placed under running water for 10 to 15 minutes, disinfectant applied and correct treatment is sought immediately at a local hospital or clinic; death is 100% preventable.

“If you are bitten by a dog and its vaccination history is unknown you must seek immediate medical help even if the wound is minor,” Wessels said.

She said a dog bite in KZN is seen as an emergency and an ambulance can be called if transport is a problem.

“It is imperative that the patient goes to the nearest clinic for the required injections.

“Dogs are the main source of the disease. By 2014, animal rabies in KZN had been reduced by 93% and human cases had ceased due to mass vaccinations conducted largely by Veterinary Services but; with additional responsibilities, limited resources and, sadly, a fading public interest; vaccinations have declined and the disease has increased.

“By law every dog owner has to ensure that his dog (and cat) is up to date with its rabies vaccination,” Wessels said, adding that a lack of general public awareness about the disease makes human infection more likely as it appears that many people do not recognise odd behaviour in stray dogs as being linked to rabies. In our area, one of the most common scenarios is that of a rabid dog approaching a farm house and going through an electric fence in order to attack the farm dogs. A normal stray dog would not go through an electric fence and show this kind of behaviour. Any stray dog that runs through an electric fence and shows aggression must be seen as potentially rabid. Owned dogs that have come into contact with a potentially rabid dog must immediately seek veterinary assistance and, if the owners themselves have come into contact with the potentially rabid dog, they must seek immediate medical assistance,” she said.

Umvoti Animal Hospital said the symptoms of rabies in dogs varies, saying: “Not all rabid dogs show aggression or salivation. They sometimes become paralysed in the back legs or are just sickly looking, sometimes with eye and nasal discharges. The dogs sometimes chew strange objects or are incoordinated. The virus causes the throat to be paralysed so they are unable (not scared) to drink water and are often therefore dehydrated.

“We have seen instances this year of people holidaying in KZN, finding a stray, sick-looking puppy and returning home with it only to find it has rabies. The coastal areas of KZN are currently ‘hot spots’ for rabies cases and holiday makers must be aware of this and avoid handling stray dogs and cats whose vaccination history is unknown,” she said.

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