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Durban - Twenty-six residents of Kwandengezi, near Mariannhill, are being treated for possible rabies after being bitten by two dogs - one of which has tested positive.
This emerged amid an intensive investigation into all known cases of recent dog bites in some township and peri-urban settlements near Hillcrest after a “rabid-donkey” scare in the area last week.
A “pet” donkey was found to be rabid after it bit the hand of local property owner and businessman, Dave Smith, at his home in Shongweni.
The donkey was put down by World Health Organisation (WHO) representative Daniel Stewart, who immediately took the carcass to Allerton Laboratories in Pietermaritzburg, where it tested positive for rabies.
Stewart said the incident came at a time when there had already been some concern in the area over a child who had been bitten by a suspected rabid dog in Kwandengezi, near Shongweni.
He said alarm bells rang and an urgent follow-up operation showed that 26 people were known to have been bitten by dogs in the Kwandengezi area in a four-day period.
It also identified two dogs believed to be responsible for the attacks. One of the dogs was put down and the other had already died - presumably of the disease - by the time it was traced.
He said the follow-up operation by the responsible government agencies and himself had been intensive. It had identified the suspect dogs, ensured that other animals were vaccinated and that all possible bite victims were receiving treatment.
“I really must thank the departments of Health and Agriculture for all the effort they put into it,” he said. “They were fantastic.
“I suspect the dog that died could have been responsible for all the bites,” said Stewart. “It could also have infected Smith’s donkey.”
Stewart traced the suspect dog to a house in the area and found its body had been buried in the garden by its owner. “I dug up the body and took it to the laboratories where it tested positive for rabies.”
He also thanked the Daily News for breaking the story of the attack on Smith and the prominent way it used the report. “That sort of thing helps to make people aware of the danger of rabies.”
Stewart said the investigation into the rabies scare had made him aware for the first time of a possible connection between noise and the dog attacks.
“Nearly all the bite victims were children, who were playing and shouting at the time,” he said. “One of the few adults who was bitten - a woman - said she was shouting to a friend across the road when the dog attacked her. It makes you wonder. Maybe it is best to stand still and keep quiet if you come across a dog that could be rabid.”
Stewart said a further follow-up operation would be carried out in Kwandengezi soon, when teams would once again vaccinate “all dogs” in the area.
“We did that area last August, but you always miss some dogs. That is our biggest problem. People don’t ensure their dogs are vaccinated. They must. It is essential.”
He said attempts were also being made by concerned authorities to change the behaviour patterns of dogs. “What brings dogs on to the streets? Bitches in season play a big part. So we want to sterilise as many as we can and the Kloof SPCA has offered to help.”
Stewart, who has played a prominent role in animal welfare in KwaZulu-Natal over many years, is now contracted to the WHO as part of its local Rabies Elimination Project.
The project, now in its fourth year, is carrying out mass vaccinations throughout the province. “We want to average 600 000 a year. Last year we did 580 000.”
He said the project had initially been funded largely by the Gates Foundation, through the WHO, but much of the financial responsibility had now been taken over by South African government agencies.
“Our campaign has hugely reduced the incidence of rabies - by nearly 97 percent,” he said.
“But we obviously can’t get complacent or the numbers can start growing again.”
Stewart said the mass vaccination campaigns were being advertised as teams moved through the province. “We have to rely greatly on responsible dog owners to bring their animals for vaccination.”
He said the eThekwini area remained a rabies “hot spot” because of its big populations of humans and dogs.
“Sadly, we have a lot of irresponsible dog owners here.
“We also get reports of people bringing dogs into the city from the country areas, dogs that may not have been vaccinated.”