World Rabies Day
Prevent rabies to save animal and human lives, urges SPCA
CAPE TOWN, 27 September 2023 – As countries throughout the world mark the 16th World Rabies Day on 28 September, the Cape of Good Hope SPCA is urging pet owners to ensure that their pets’ vaccinations are up-to-date – including the rabies vaccination.
In South Africa as in most parts of the world, dogs are the main vectors of rabies – a fatal viral disease for which there is no cure.
While wild animals and livestock can also contract rabies, which is spread through the saliva of infected animals, the only way to ensure that pets do not contract it is through vaccination.
“Many people mistakenly think of rabid dogs as highly aggressive and frothing from the mouth – but the opposite is often the case,” said the Cape of Good Hope SPCA.
Rabies can present in the ‘furious’ form, as characterised by the 1983 film Cujo which featured a rabid Saint Bernard, or the ‘dumb’ form, which has less obvious symptoms.
Dogs can simply look sick and behave differently; they won’t necessarily be aggressive.
Regardless of the symptoms – which appear from one to three months after exposure to the virus – the end result is death. Rabies is fatal.
It is a legal requirement in South Africa for all cats and dogs to be vaccinated against rabies. Pets must be vaccinated at 12 weeks of age and again 12 months later, and then once every one to three years. To have an animal vaccinated, visit your local vet or animal welfare organisation.
The Cape of Good Hope SPCA mobile clinics travel into many under resourced communities to offer pet vaccinations and primary health care treatment. View their weekly schedule here or call the SPCA on 021 700 4140.
If you suspect you have been bitten by a rabid dog, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, flushing it thoroughly for around 10 minutes, and seek urgent medical treatment. Once symptoms appear, there is no treatment for rabies in either animals or people.
Q&A (Source: Global Alliance for Rabies Control)
World Rabies Day: why 28 September?
September 28 was chosen as it commemorates the death of Louis Pasteur, who created the first rabies vaccine and laid the foundations of rabies prevention.
How is rabies transmitted?
The rabies virus is transmitted through the saliva or brain/nervous system tissue of an animal infected with rabies. For infection to occur in another animal or person, the saliva or infected tissue needs to enter the body – usually through a bite wound or open cuts; or less commonly, through mucous membranes such as the mouth or eyes.
How will a person know they have rabies?
Early rabies symptoms can be easily confused with other diseases, and often rabies goes unrecognised. However, if rabies is suspected, several tests are necessary.
What can be done for a patient with rabies?
Unfortunately, by the time someone has clinical symptoms of rabies there is little that can be done except palliative care. Medical teams can use sedation and tranquilizers to prevent the patient suffering from the distressing symptoms of the virus, but no cure exists.
If you have risky contact with an infectious person 14 days prior to the onset of clinical symptoms, post-exposure prophylaxis is recommended. Risky behaviors include bites, kisses or other direct contact between saliva and mucous membranes or broken skin, sexual activity and sharing eating or drinking utensils or cigarettes.
What animals can have rabies?
Worldwide, the main reservoir of the rabies virus is the dog. Rabies can also be present in different wildlife species, which vary across countries, but because of the less common contact between humans and wildlife, transmission to people is most commonly from dogs. Cats are not natural reservoirs of the virus, but they can become readily infected by rabies and can transmit the disease. Any mammal can theoretically be infected with rabies and can therefore transmit the disease to humans if exposure occurs.