The recent outbreak of rabies in South Africa has brought to light how terrible this disease is and how as pet parents we need to be vigilant and keep our families safe.
Rabies is 100 per cent preventable, yet 55 000 people around the world die every year from the disease.
Several major health organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), have pledged to eliminate human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies by 2030.
As pet parents, the first step we can take in helping to make this happen is to vaccinate our pets. Cats and dogs should be vaccinated against rabies at 3 months and then receive a booster 1 to 9 months later. Thereafter they should receive the vaccination annually, unless your vet advises differently. In South Africa, it is law that pets are vaccinated against rabies, and as a pet parent it is your responsibility to ensure this happens.
However, in many cases, the real danger comes from stray or feral animals, and sadly it’s our children who are most at risk.
Rabies is transmitted most often by being bitten or scratched by an infected animal: however, in rare cases it can even develop after being licked by an infected animal. If you suspect that you have been infected, you should immediately flush and wash the wound for a minimum of 15 minutes with warm water and disinfectant, thereafter seek immediate medical attention. Advise the doctor of your suspicion, as they will not only notify the relevant authorities but will also administer the correct treatment protocol. Unfortunately, if you wait to get medical attention and the rabies symptoms set in, the disease will be fatal.
Dr Guy Fyvie, Nutritional Advisor at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, South Africa provides some tips on how to stay safe during a rabies outbreak:
• Children under the age of 15 make up 40 per cent of the reported cases of being bitten by a suspectedly rabid animal. It is therefore important to warn your children of the risks of interacting with strays and pets that are not theirs.
• Don’t ever take the chance. If bitten or scratched, assume the worst and follow the treatment protocol. There is simply nothing that can be done once the symptoms present themselves,
• Ensure your pets’ rabies vaccinations are up to date and if you are in an immediate outbreak area, have your pet revaccinated. If you can’t provide proof of a pet’s vaccination status, they may be euthanised if they come into contact with an infected animal, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms.
• Do not let your pets roam the streets. This should be applied at all times.
• Do not let your pets interact with unknown animals – an animal can become infected by fighting with another animal, even over a fence.
• Do not approach stray dogs or cats (or wild animals), especially if they are showing abnormal behaviour such as being aggressive or very docile.
• If you suspect an animal is infected, contact the health authorities immediately. Do not try to restrain the animal yourself.
• Make a donation to a welfare organisation that does rabies vaccination outreach programmes. The higher the vaccinated animal population, the less chance there is of an outbreak.
Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease and globally there has been a reduction in the number of human and animal rabies cases as a result of vaccination of animals. Africa, Asia and Latin America have however seen a recent increase in human rabies deaths and if not dealt with effectively rabies could once again become a serious public health pandemic.
“As pet parents we should all be doing our part in helping to raise awareness and reduce rabies fatalities in South Africa,” concluded Dr Fyvie.
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