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Rabies outbreak a major concern in KZN

Published Dec 4, 2021

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With the recent rabies outbreak in South Africa and some parts of KwaZulu-Natal, the public is urged to be aware of the increase in cases and to stay away from animals that have not been vaccinated.

According to National Institute for Communicable Diseases medical scientist Dr Jacqueline Weyer, the last few months has seen an increase in the number of human rabies cases: with a 99% fatality rate, it is one of the deadliest diseases on earth.

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Weyer said, unlike most other vaccine preventable diseases, rabies vaccines can be given for both pre and post-exposure to rabies.

“The biggest misconception the public appears to have is that ’rabies is not my problem’. People do not consider rabies something that happens in an urban or metropolitan setting,” said Weyer.

Weyer said the situation was illustrated perfectly in the Western Cape, where dog rabies had not been reported for decades. Now, because of raging outbreaks in other parts of the country and low dog rabies vaccination coverage, the disease spilt over to parts of the Western Cape.

“You just need one rabid dog to come into contact with an unvaccinated dog to set off a new outbreak,” she said.

Rabies in Sub-Saharan Africa for the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) technical head Dr Andre Coetzer said it was difficult to say what triggered the recent outbreak.

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“It was certainly an introduction of a rabid dog into an immunologically naive dog population living within the city.

“While the route of the introduction would be speculative, the negligence of dog owners in terms of annual rabies vaccination resulted in this outbreak,” said Coetzer.

He said the area with the most confirmed cases was eThekwini Metro and King Cetshwayo District during 2021 to date. eThekwini has 298 confirmed positive animal rabies cases and eight confirmed positive human rabies cases.

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“This year alone, 13 people have died of rabies in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. These are preventable deaths, and people should be concerned about it and take action by having their animals vaccinated and ensuring that they receive adequate treatment should an exposure take place.

"Mass vaccination of every at-risk dog within the areas where the outbreaks are taking place should eliminate the disease from the human population by eliminating it from the dog population,” he said.

The Independent on Saturday

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