29 laboratory-confirmed human rabies cases in SA in 2021, 2022

Picture: Bheki Radebe

Picture: Bheki Radebe

Published Oct 2, 2022


Durban — In the last two years, there has been an increase in human rabies cases in South Africa as a result of dog rabies outbreaks.

That was according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) September communiqué.

The NICD said that in areas where it was previously unheard of, human rabies cases have also been reported.

“To date (September 22, 2022), 29 cases of human rabies have been laboratory confirmed in South Africa in 2021 and 2022,” the NICD said.

It said that the Eastern Cape (EC 14), Limpopo (LPP 7), and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN 8) were the three provinces that reported cases.

“Additionally, nine other probable cases of human rabies deaths were reported from the EC and from KZN,” the NICD said.

It said that in the Nelson Mandela Bay district, which had an unprecedented number of human cases, Buffalo City, OR Tambo and Amathole districts in the EC; Vhembe and Mopani districts (LPP) and eThekwini and King Cetshwayo, Zululand and iLembe districts in KZN all reported cases. However, no cases have been reported in the most recent month after August 25, 2022.

Laboratory-confirmed and probable cases of human rabies cases in South Africa in 2021 and 2022 up. Picture: NICD

The NICD said that rabies is a zoonotic disease with a high fatality rate that is typically contracted by being bitten by a rabid dog.

It said that despite the existence of rabies vaccination for more than a century and the elimination of canine rabies in many regions of the world, dog-transmitted rabies remains a serious public health concern with 37% of cases in the world occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by 35% in India, 25% in the rest of Asia excluding India and Central Asia, and 3% in the Middle East, including northern Africa and Central Asia.

Sub-Saharan African countries are estimated to spend the least on post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), resulting in the highest costs associated with human rabies deaths and the wide underreporting of such deaths.

The World Health Organisation, the World Organisation for Animal Health, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) proposed this strategy in 2016. It deliberately designates dog-mediated human rabies deaths as the first target for rabies elimination because of its importance for public health as well as its possibility to be achieved in the short term.

The longer-term objective of stopping the spread of the disease and completely eliminating canine rabies would take more time, but precedents from many different nations show that it is feasible.

The theme for the 16th annual World Rabies Day in 2022 is ‘One Health, Zero Death’. Picture: NICD

“The National Strategy for the Elimination of dog-mediated rabies in South Africa (2019-2030) was signed by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and the Department of Health in 2021 (Introduction (dalrrd.gov.za)).

“The proposed strategy focuses on using a One Health approach to manage rabies outbreaks in both humans and animals through interdisciplinary collaboration between public health and veterinary sectors, moving countries from having endemic rabies to eliminating dog-mediated rabies,” the NICD said.

It said that since 2007, the anniversary of Louis Pasteur's death on September 28 has served as the date for World Rabies Day. In 1885, Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and microbiologist, successfully administered the rabies vaccine to a dog bite victim for the first time.

World Rabies Day strives to promote rabies elimination globally and increase public awareness of the disease.

More than 30 rabies vaccination and awareness and learning activities co-ordinated by governmental and private stakeholders in South Africa have been registered with the GARC (www.rabiesalliance.org), to be organised and held in September 2022.

Additional details regarding rabies and PEP as well as the Rabies World Day may be found on the NICD website (www.nicd.ac.za) and GARC website (www.rabiesalliance.org).

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