This is a notice that yet another case of rabies has been confirmed in the Western Cape. The first 2 cases were confirmed in the Kyelitsha region at the end of August, 3rd case in Gordon’s bay at the end of September, where a dog (home owned) was brought to a clinic with symptoms, suspected of rabies. There has now been another confirmed case in Strand, where a stray animal was brought into one of the Helderberg clinics with animal bites. The patient was fine when it was brought in, however started showing signs of aggression, loss of hindlimb control and became unco-ordinated a few days later in hospital and was confirmed to have rabies.
In order to equip our Teva clients with the correct information, we have attached an article with frequently asked questions, and of utmost importance, PLEASE BRING YOUR DOGS AND CATS FOR VACCINATION IF THEY ARE NOT UP TO DATE!!!
Did you know?
- Rabies is 100% fatal
- Rabies is 100% preventable through vaccination
- Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning humans can get the disease from animals
- In South Africa, rabies is an endemic disease, and its common carriers include honey badgers, bat-eared foxes, jackals, meerkats and mongooses as well as feral and domestic cats and dogs.
- The virus is transmitted through contact in saliva from close contact with an infected animal such as bites, scratches or even licks on broken skin and mucous membranes which can transmit the virus.
- Rabies vaccination of domestic dogs and cats is mandatory by law in South Africa.
- 28 September (World Rabies day) marks the anniversary of Louis Pasteur’s death, the French chemist and microbiologist, who developed the first rabies vaccine.
What is rabies?
Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted through saliva of an infected animal to another mammal. Once bitten or scratched, the virus will enter the nervous system and “grow” along the nerve towards the central nervous system (spinal cord and brain). Once it reaches the central nervous system, it causes neurological symptoms (lack of co-ordination, paralysis, disorientation amongst others) and ultimately, death.
Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be passed on to humans from animals. In South Africa, most human cases are as a result of bites from dogs that have been infected with rabies.
Can my pet survive rabies?
The short and simple answer: No. Rabies is a 100% fatal disease in animals. There is no cure for rabies. Once symptoms start, animals tend to decline very rapidly, in most cases neurological deterioration takes place over 2-3 days, ending in death.
Do I need to vaccinate my pet against rabies? When?
Yes!! In this case, prevention is the only cure!
If your pet is well-vaccinated for rabies, it is protected against this fatal disease. It is 100% preventable by vaccination. This means that even if your dog is bitten by a highly infectious rabid animal, it will be safe.
The general vaccination guidelines for rabies vaccination in South Africa, is that it should be done every 2-3 years, however in parts of the country where rabies is prevalent (eg KZN, MP and EC), it is recommended to give annual booster vaccinations. If you want to play things on the safe, annual rabies vaccination boosters are the way to go, though your pet should be protected if it has had its rabies vaccine in the last 2 years.
Can pregnant dogs and nursing mothers get the vaccine?
The rabies vaccines are inactivated and should therefore be safe to use in both pregnant and nursing dogs. The risk would be even further reduced if they have already previously been vaccinated.
How do I recognize rabies? What symptoms do I look out for in animals?
Most people have this idea of a vicious aggressive large dog or racoon frothing at the mouth as a rabid animal. Whilst this can be the case, a lot of the time in South Africa, the symptoms vary a lot. The early stages of rabies are not always easy to pick up. The animal may just be listless, lethargic and unwilling to eat. A day or so later though, symptoms will progress. The most common symptoms for rabies in animals in South Africa are the following:
- Mental dullness (the animal will look like its “not with it”, spacing out, not responding in the normal way to certain stimuli)
- “Fly-biting” – snapping at the air as if there are flies, but there aren’t (hallucinations)
- “bone stuck in throat syndrome” – dogs will often paw at their mouth as if there is a bone stuck at the back of their throat or between their teeth
- Hypersalivation or foaming at the mouth, this is due to excessive production of saliva together with a combination of struggling to swallow
- Dropped jaw and struggling to swallow
- Hydrophobia – this is can sometimes be used as a test – place a bowl of water for the animal, they are usually thirsty but have a fear of water, so they will try to drink but will rapidly move away as soon as they have contact with the water
- Incoordination or disorientation – the animal looks drunk
- Hindlimb lameness or paralysis
- ANY unexplained change in behavior (eg. wild animals often lose fear to humans)
Though these are some of the symptoms of rabies, an animal might not show any or all of the symptoms, and it is sometimes very difficult to identify, especially in the early stages. Essentially, any animal acting “strange” should be considered suspicious and should be monitored carefully.
What do I do if I suspect an animal of rabies?
ALWAYS play on the side of caution! This disease is not one to be messed with. If you suspect an animal of rabies, do not approach the animal. If at all possible, try and take a video from a distance in order to record its symptoms, so that a veterinarian can establish whether this is a case of genuine concern or whether rabies is unlikely. Try and monitor the animal/keep it in view so that it is trackable and can be captured and stopped before it has the opportunity to transmit the disease to another animal or human. Call a vet clinic, preferably the state vet in the area, however if unavailable, or you are not sure of what to do, please do not hesitate to call Teva Vet clinic so we can assist you in the matter.
If you need to approach the animal for whatever reason, do so with a thick blanket or towel and thick gloves, to protect yourself from potential unexpected aggression, but it is much safer and better to leave any handling to trained and vaccinated professionals (ie vets, animal inspectors, animal health technicians, vet nurses etc).
I have been bitten or scratched by an animal that I think may have rabies, what do I do?
After any exposure to the virus (bite, lick or scratch that includes even the smallest break in the skin), medical attention should be sought IMMEDIATELY.
- First step is to clean the wound with soap and water for 15 minutes. This is a critical step and one that you can take immediately.
- Go to the hospital/emergency room to seek further medical attention as soon as possible. Here, you should receive post exposure prophylaxis, which usually includes a series of rabies vaccinations as well as RIG (rabies immunoglobulins). RIG are not available everywhere. If you are unsure of what to do, please contact your vet and they will guide you as to your next step.
- Call local animal-control authorities (state vet, welfare organization, or your private vet) to help find the animal. It may need to be caught and watched for signs of rabies.
- If you know the owner of the animal that bit you, get all the information you can, including its vaccination status and the owner’s name and address. Notify your local health department (state vet), especially if the animal wasn’t vaccinated.
It is important to follow these steps eminently, as prompt medical intervention and time is of the essence. Leaving treatment for longer than 24-48 hours reduces your chances of survival. Once the clinical onset of rabies symptoms is evident, there is no cure available.
Has anyone ever survived rabies?
By the end of 2020 there have only been 29 documented cases of rabies survivors worldwide. This is a drop in the ocean of the 59000 reported cases of rabies per year. In South Africa, in 2021, there have been 8 confirmed cases of human rabies so far. There have been no survivors recorded in South Africa.
In South Africa, most human cases of rabies are as a result of being bitten by a rabid dog.
Can/should humans get a rabies vaccine?
Human rabies vaccines are available, but are not necessarily recommended to members of the public. Humans that have high risk of exposure (ie those working with animals on a daily basis) such as veterinarians, animal health technicians, vet nurses, animal welfare personel etc are usually vaccinated, particularly those working in areas where rabies is prevalent.
As a pet owner, you do not need to get a rabies vaccine, as the PEP (post – exposure prophylaxis, which includes cleaning the wound, a series of rabies vaccinations and RIG) treatment is enough to treat exposure, as long as it is done correctly and in time, as mentioned above.
If your pet is has not had a recent rabies vaccinated and you are not sure if they are protected against rabies, please contact our clinic to make an appointment for a rabies booster vaccination.
The Teva Team