NATIONAL NEWS - After the deaths of two children who were among the five confirmed cases of rabies this year, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases stressed the importance of awareness of the potentially lethal disease in humans.
The institute reported that the five cases of rabies in humans occurred in two provinces. Three were in the Eastern Cape and two in Limpopo.
Netcare Travel Clinics and Medicross Tokai’s Dr Pete Vincent said this incident highlighted the importance of people being aware rabies was a “vaccine-preventable infectious disease that is invariably fatal if not managed and treated timeously and appropriately”.
“If you consider that, according to the World Health Organisation, rabies is still responsible for close on 60 000 deaths globally every year, most of them in Africa and Asia, then our track record of rabies prevention in South Africa looks relatively impressive.
“Nevertheless, the threat of rabies, which is contracted from infected animals, is ever-present, particularly in rural areas where many pet dogs are not vaccinated against the virus. In addition, rabies is quite commonly reported among both wild and domestic animals in South Africa.”
People could be infected with the disease if the saliva of an infected animal came into contact with an open wound or mucous membrane.
Vincent noted that children were more likely to come into contact with the disease because they were more inclined to play with animals than adults.
He added that when identifying animals infected with rabies, a high level of aggression was not the primary indicator.
“There are two strains of the virus, which can cause quite different symptoms, with some rabid animals becoming very docile, rather than aggressive. One, therefore, needs to watch for any change in behaviour in an animal, rather than just aggression.
“Infected wild animals, for example, may lose their fear of humans and become easy to approach. People should stay away from stray dogs and any animal displaying strange behaviour.”
Although those infected with rabies in the past “faced certain death”, there was a treatment for it now. However, it had to be correctly administered within 24 hours.