Drive to eliminate rabies

2015-09-28 09:41
Qualified animal vaccinators do their part to protect their community from rabies by vaccinating dogs.

Qualified animal vaccinators do their part to protect their community from rabies by vaccinating dogs. (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - With over 60 000 human deaths annually, rabies affects all corners of the globe, due to lack of awareness and education on the entirely preventable disease.

World Rabies Day is commemorated annually on September 28 to raise awareness surrounding the disease, how to prevent it, and what to do once exposed.

With two confirmed cases of human rabies in KZN this year and the death of prominent Underberg farmer and top canoeist Graeme Anderson in 2012, World Rabies Day is an important reminder of the danger surrounding the disease and how easily preventable it is.

In May 2012, The Witness published an article on how Anderson had contracted the disease after picking up a stray dog in Underberg village the previous month.

It is believed that the disease was passed through the dog’s saliva when he licked Anderson — the animal did not bite him.

The 29-year-old died in June 2012 after his life support machine was switched off.

With a lack of knowledge and awareness about the disease, it is known as one of the most fatal on earth.

According to a statement from the University of Pretoria, almost 60 000 human deaths occur worldwide per year due to canine rabies.

This accounts for one death and 300 exposures every nine minutes.

“Almost all human fatalities occur in developing countries with 37% in Africa,” said the statement.

University of Pretoria (UP) Microbiology and Plant Pathology Professor Louis Nel recently founded the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC).

The GARC team and three University of Pretoria PhD candidates — Terence Scott, André Coetzer and Nicolette Wright — helped in the creating the Pan-African Rabies Control Network (Paracon).

GARC supports African countries in the Paracon area with information and national programmes aimed at controlling and eliminating rabies in canines.

“We encourage all people around the world to be more aware of rabies and the effects that it has on our communities,” said Scott in the UP statement.

“By being aware of the disease, vaccinating your animals (especially dogs and cats) and by preventing dog bites, we will be able to control and eliminate this disease.”

UP students led by Scott, Coetzer and Wright are visiting schools in high-risk areas today to educate children about how to prevent the disease, and what to do if exposed to rabies.

The team work closely with schools, as the majority of rabies deaths occur in children under the age of 15.

Schools interested in hosting a WRD event can visit the GARC website at

Two human rabies deaths have been confirmed in South Africa so far this year, according to the website of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

One was a 57-year old man from the KwaHlabisa area in northern KZN, and the other a 70-year-old man in Polokwane, Limpopo. Both tested positive for the disease after contact with rabies-infected dogs.

The institute says control of rabies in dogs through vaccination is critical in preventing rabies in humans.

Adequate vaccinations of dogs must be maintained to be effective.

“Vaccine coverage in dog populations within peri-urban and rural communities is low, given technical and financial constraints,” said the institute.

In 2012 an outbreak of the disease in Ladysmith resulted in four fatalities.

Vaccination campaigns after the outbreak resulted in a dramatic decrease in animal cases.

“The number of confirmed dog rabies cases in KZN declined from 473 cases in 2007 to 38 in 2014.

According to the institute preventative treatment is almost 100% effective in preventing rabies in humans.

Any person exposed to a suspected rabid animal should seek treatment regardless of the severity of the injury, and health care professionals need to be able to perform a risk assessment and decide on appropriate management.

“Health care workers are urged to consider the possibility of rabies infection in people presenting with unexplained encephalitis, paralysis or other rabies-like symptoms even when the history of an animal bite/exposure is unknown.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  rabies

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