Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Agriculture and Rural Development Department says it has intensified public education and vaccination efforts to curb the spread of rabies after the deaths of four people - of human rabies - in the province this year.
During the same period, there have been eight laboratory-confirmed human rabies cases in South Africa.
Department spokesperson Mack Makhathini said the last rabies outbreak in KZN was between January and September, 2018.
It left eight people dead.
Makhathini said this year’s deaths took place in the Ilembe, Ugu and uMgungundlovu municipalities, in the past two months.
“The recent deaths include those of a 4-year-old boy from Maphumulo, a 50-year-old woman from Trust Feed, and 17- and 38-year-old males from Ezinqoleni and Shakas Head, respectively,” Makhathini said.
He said more than 70000 dogs and cats had been vaccinated since the department started a massive programme in Ndwedwe, Durban and Ilembe, where the first cases of rabies were reported, in October 2017.
According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the increase in the number of human rabies cases, in the Eastern Cape and KZN, relates to an increase in the number of dog rabies cases reported in these provinces.
The 4-year-old died in the second week of July, after being scratched on his cheek by a stray dog, in KwaDukuza, in March this year. This case was confirmed by laboratory tests.
The 38-year-old man died after exhibiting neurological dysfunction and behavioural changes. The man was reportedly bitten by a dog, in oThongathi, three months before his death. Rabies was confirmed by post-mortem.
The 17-year-old, from Ezinqoleni, also died in hospital after being bitten on the leg by a dog and falling ill. Rabies was confirmed by post-mortem.
The signs and symptoms of the three included fever, vomiting, anxiety, aggression, agitation, confusion, delirium with periods of lucidity, clenching jaws, language disorder, fear of water, bloody vomiting, headaches, and hysteria.
The NICD urged people to ensure their pets vaccination schedules were up to date and that medical intervention was sought after exposure to a potentially rabid animal.
“Rabies virus infections can be effectively prevented if post-exposure prophylaxis is provided promptly and in accordance with national recommendations,” the institute said.
Agriculture MEC Bongi Sithole-Moloi said the department was treating the spread of rabies as an emergency and would apply to the national government to declare the disease as such later.
“Due to the fact that where there are rabies, there are bound to be human deaths, we decided to first bolster our vaccination clinics in all the hotspots and treat this as an emergency,” she said.
Kevin le Roux, the department’s control animal health technician and rabies expert adviser to the World Health Organisation, said while the inland areas of KZN were all vaccinated, the coastal areas of Ugu, eThekwini, Ilembe, Jozini, King Cetshwayo and Zululand were still key areas of concern, with 22 mobile clinics having been distributed to these coastal areas.