Following the recent confirmation of several cases of rabid animals in Lanseria and Muldersdrift, in Gauteng1, the public are advised to remain vigilant against rabies.
“Any animal that does not have a complete record of rabies vaccinations could be an infection risk, and members of the public should think twice before approaching any animal which is not known to them, as it may carry this life-threatening disease,” warns Dr Pete Vincent of Netcare Travel Clinics and Medicross Tokai family medical and dental centre.
“While Gauteng has not historically been a rabies hotspot, the recent discovery of jackals with rabies is a reminder to all of us to ensure our pets are regularly vaccinated against the rabies virus. Mongooses are some of the most common hosts of the virus, and these small mammals frequently visit domestic gardens, where they could potentially infect domestic pets.”
The virus is spread through the saliva of infected animals, either when they bite, or when their saliva comes into contact with an open wound or the eyes, nose or mouth of another animal or an individual.
“Most often, people tend to associate rabies with images of dogs foaming at the mouth. In reality, however, a wide variety of mammals can carry the virus including cats, bats and even cattle, and it should also be noted that rabid animals do not necessarily foam at the mouth. While some rabid animals may become more aggressive, it is also not uncommon for wild animals with rabies to act uncharacteristically tame,” Dr Vincent explains.
Preventable in humans
“The best means of protection against rabies is to avoid contact with stray, wild or unfamiliar animals and to ensure that pets and livestock are vaccinated. If a person is licked or bitten by an animal that could potentially be rabid, it is vital to seek immediate medical attention.”
Dr Vincent notes that rabies post-exposure vaccination usually involves a series of injections for a period of up to a month. “If treatment commences early, within 48 hours, and the full course is correctly administered, humans exposed to rabies will almost certainly not develop the disease.
This is the one and only chance of preventing progression of the virus, as once a person develops clinical signs of rabies there is no cure and the condition is invariably fatal.”
Read: Rabies, dogs and people
“The good news is that rabies infection in humans is preventable. With timeous treatment and adherence to the recommended precautions, we can all protect ourselves against this disease,” Dr Vincent concludes.
What to do in the event of potential rabies exposure:
- Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water, for at least 10 minutes, in an attempt to get rid of the virus.
- Consult a doctor immediately so that treatment is not delayed.
- Your doctor will likely give you a series of rabies vaccinations. Keep a record of the dates of each injection and be sure to complete the course.
- Depending on the severity of the injury, your doctor may also inject rabies immunoglobulin around the wound.
How to protect yourself and your family against rabies exposure:
- Ensure your pets’ and livestock’s rabies vaccinations are up to date.
- Keep your domesticated animals away from animals that may not be vaccinated.
- Avoid contact with wild, stray or unfamiliar animals in all circumstances.
- Educate your children about the risks of rabies and how to avoid exposure.
- Ensure friends, family and child minders know about the risks of rabies and what to do in case of potential exposure.