There have been five confirmed cases of rabies in humans in SA to date in 2019; three from the Eastern Cape and two from Limpopo. File Picture: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)

Cape Town - The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has reported that there have been five confirmed cases of rabies in humans in South Africa to date in 2019; three from the Eastern Cape Province and two from Limpopo Province. These have resulted in the deaths of two children.

Commenting on these rabies fatalities and cases, which were reported in the NICD’s latest Communicable Diseases Communiqué, Dr Pete Vincent of Netcare Travel Clinics and Medicross Tokai, said that they reiterate the importance of educating South Africans about this vaccine-preventable infectious disease, which is invariably fatal if it not managed and treated timeously and appropriately. 

“If you consider that, according to the World Health Organization [WHO], rabies is still responsible for close on 60 000 deaths globally every year, most of them occurring in Africa and Asia, then our track record of rabies prevention here in South Africa looks relatively impressive,” adds Dr Vincent.

“Nevertheless, the threat of rabies, which is contracted from infected animals, is ever present, particularly in our 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.” 

The importance of awareness

“Improved awareness of rabies — including knowledge of what to do in the case of a bite from, or contact with, a rabid animal such as a dog — will go a long way towards assisting in protecting South Africans and our children from rabies. It is important to be aware that a post-exposure prophylaxis vaccine and treatment is available to prevent the disease, but it must be administered appropriately and as soon as possible after exposure to rabies to be effective,” he adds.

“WHO reports that more than 15 million people worldwide receive this life-saving post-exposure vaccination every year. This is an astonishing number and provides an indication of just how widespread the occurrence of rabies infection in humans is and how important this prophylaxis vaccine has become in preventing this infectious disease. A further important measure in controlling rabies, which attacks the nervous system, is the on-going mass vaccination of dogs, which are responsible for the great majority of infections in humans.” 

Dr Vincent recommends that families adopt a three pronged approach to avoiding infection: as far as possible avoid getting bitten by animals or coming into contact with animals that may be infected; know what to do in order to prevent rabies after a bite; and make sure that that you are able to access a medical centre where post exposure prophylaxis is available.  

Cape Argus