Rabies in KZN on rise again

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Feb 13, 2021

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Durban - A ten-year-old KwaZulu-Natal boy has died from rabies and more than 30 cases of animal rabies have been confirmed since the beginning of the year − 21 of these cases are in KwaZulu-Natal.

Yesterday, the two latest cases of animals infected with rabies were a bat in Hillcrest and a dog in Mandeni.

This week, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and the SA Veterinary Council sent out a combined statement alerting the public to the cases and urging them to have their pets vaccinated against rabies.

"The department is saddened to report that one human fatality has been reported from KwaZulu-Natal (10-year-old boy). We would like to assure members of the public that although rabies is an unfortunate reality, it can be prevented.

“Rabies is a fatal viral disease that affects all mammals and is transmissible from animals to humans. The virus is transmitted through the saliva of infected animals through licks, scratches and bites," read the statement.

SA Veterinary Council vice-president Dr Nomsa Mnisi said: "The disease is preventable purely by vaccinating animals. We therefore should not be seeing people − especially the most vulnerable, like children − dying."

According to an earlier statement by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the boy from the Umbumbulu region (south-west of Durban) was bitten by a dog in November, but no medical treatment was sought.

He experienced nausea, vomiting, restlessness and confusion and died on January 12. Rabies was detected in a post mortem brain specimen.

Director of animal health at the department, Dr Mpho Maja said in terms of the Animal Disease Act, it is the responsibility of each pet owner to ensure that their pets are vaccinated against rabies.

"By doing this, you will not only be protecting your beloved animals, but you will also be playing your part in the bigger picture, protecting the lives of fellow human beings, especially children," said Maja.

The cases so far this year include eThekwini (14) with most cases being south of the city, Mandeni (3), uMhlathuze (2), Umfolozi (1) and uMshwati (1).

The Eastern Cape has reported two cases of human rabies, with no confirmed fatalities, and 10 cases of animal rabies.

Last year, seven cases of human rabies were laboratory confirmed, six of which were in KZN and one in Limpopo.

The last spike in rabies cases in the province was last September which claimed the lives of three children within the eThekwini Municipality between July and September, according to the provincial Department of Agriculture.

At that time eManzimtoti SPCA said their number of cases had risen by more than 100% compared with the previous year, with manager Tracey Girling attributing the increase to residents not immunising their pets because of the Covid lockdown, as well as people not sterilising their pets, which led to more births and often more strays.

In September, the Durban and Coastal branch reported having treated 10 cases since last April, while Kloof SPCA said they only had one reported case.

A mass immunisation campaign took place in uMlazi last year and this was in line with the commitment by the World Organisation for Animal Health, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Nations to eradicate dog-mediated human cases of rabies by 2030.

Rabies occurs in domestic and wild animals across South Africa and the department said community members should not touch any unknown or stray animals, especially dogs and cats.

Any rabies symptoms in animals must be reported immediately to the nearest state veterinary office, which must also be notified of any possible human contact with rabid animals.

If you have had contact (lick, scratch or bite) from a suspected rabid animal, the wound must be washed with soap and water, after which seek immediate medical assistance for preventative treatment. Post-exposure treatment needs to be started immediately to prevent rabies infection.

Rabies affects the brain and leads to death if not rapidly treated. Symptoms in your pet can vary widely and can include: behavioural changes, aggression, salivation and paralysis.

Contact your nearest vet or SPCA should you suspect your pet may have contracted rabies.

The Independent on Saturday

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