Rabies is nearly always fatal without immediate proper post exposure prophylaxis treatment.
The group recommends travellers to high risk areas where medical facilities or vaccines are not readily accessible to get pre-exposure vaccination prior to departure.
Rabies is transmitted through the saliva of infected animals and the rabies control group recommends travellers, on their way to rabies-endemic areas including Africa and Asia where there is a high population of stray dogs, to get vaccinated.
It said, though, that pre-exposure vaccination should also be considered by others whose activities brought them into frequent contact with the rabies virus or potentially rabid animals, such as travellers exposed to outdoor activities (jogging, biking, camping, hiking), people doing community or missionary work in rural communities, as well as by game rangers, veterinarians and others working with animals.
Children travelling to high-risk areas should also be vaccinated as they are the most at risk.
A Sanofi Pasteur spokesperson, Jaco Smit, said: “Children are at the highest risk of dog rabies. About 30% to 60% of the victims of dog bites are children under the age of 15, as children often play with animals and are less likely to report bites or scratches.”
The statement said being vaccinated before travelling abroad or to high risk areas substantially reduced the risk of infection.
The pre-exposure series consists of three doses of rabies vaccine.
Rabies occurred worldwide with the highest incidents in Africa, Asia and India. Thailand has an estimated 10 million stray dogs, with one in 10 dogs in Bangkok estimated to be infected with rabies.
The areas in South Africa most affected by rabies, according to the latest statistics that appeared in the communicable diseases communiqué, include the north-eastern areas of the Eastern Cape, the eastern and south-eastern areas of the Cape, eastern and south-eastern Mpumalanga, northern Limpopo and rural areas throughout KwaZulu-Natal.
Rabies is 100% preventable. In most cases, preventing rabies is as simple as ensuring adequate pre-exposure rabies vaccination as well as pet vaccination and control, avoiding contact with stray domestic and wild animals and educating those at risk.
Albie de Frey, The Travel Doctor’s medical director, said: "Prepare yourself for an emergency. Get vaccinated before your travel; take a first aid kit with you; ensure roaming is available on your cellphone and take out travel insurance. Also protect yourself and avoid touching stray animals or wildlife – no matter how friendly they seem."
Some of the symptoms of rabies include headache and fever, irritability and restlessness and anxiety, as well as a tingling sensation or pain at the site of the bite.
Press release from Sanofi
Photo: Scientist from Shutterstock