Worried about rabies? Here's what you need to know

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Photo by Nick Bolton on Unsplash
Photo by Nick Bolton on Unsplash

In the last few months, we've seen more news about human rabies cases. 

As of 23 November, South Africa has confirmed 17 human rabies cases, equating to over 100% increase compared to the 7 cases reported in 2020. Sadly, rabies has a high fatality rate.

The only prevention of rabies after exposure and even if you had already had pre-exposure prophylaxis is modern vaccines, says Dr Thinus Marais, Sanofi Medical Head: Africa Zone & Algeria.

Another doctor, Andre Coetzer, a Technical Lead for rabies in Sub-Saharan Africa for the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), says that this is what to do if you've been bitten or scratched by a potentially rabid animal.

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and running water for approximately 15 minutes.
  • Apply a disinfectant to prevent secondary infection.
  • Seek medical attention urgently to start post-exposure prophylaxis immediately.

Read: Dog and Child Safety | How to prevent a dog attack

During an interview with News24 about this awful virus, Dr Jacqueline Weyer of the National Institute for Communicable Disease, told us that "although other animals may also develop rabies, people nearly always contract the rabies virus through contact with a rabid dog."

"The virus is transmitted through the infected saliva of the dog that is introduced into the body via a wound inflicted by the rabid animal. This may include bites, scratches and nicks," added Dr Weyer.

"Rabid dogs are acutely ill and may appear wasted and display peculiar behaviour. Attacks may be unprovoked, and the dog may appear disorientated. In some cases, the dogs appear limp and develop other signs of paralysis," Dr Weyer told us.

Dr Weyer says that it is essential to teach children how to and how not to interact with dogs to minimize the risk of bites.

She says that parents should also teach children to report when they encounter strange dogs or other animals.

"If your child was possibly exposed to a rabid animal, visit a healthcare facility urgently to be assessed for rabies post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent the infection," Dr Weyer advises.

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