The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has issued a rabies alert to the locals and people travelling to high risk areas this festive season.
Department spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo said rabies is common in the KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces, as well as the border between the Free State Province and Lesotho.
“The coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape are a particularly high risk for rabies – the public is advised not to approach, touch or pick up stray dogs and cats from these areas for whatever purpose,” he said.
The Department encouraged the public to rather report stray animals to local welfare authorities and to support these organisations in caring for such animals.
“Remember that rabies may occur anywhere in South Africa and therefore avoid the handling of animals that you do not know,” Ngcobo said.
In animals and humans, Ngcobo said the disease affects the brain and once clinical signs become visible, there is no curative treatment, and it is 100% fatal.
“Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means that people can become infected by an infected animal. The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva of an infected animal when it bites, scratches or licks a person.
“Rabies affects the brain and is fatal once a person or animal shows clinical signs. Animals infected by rabies show changes in behaviour and neurological symptoms,” he said.
Behaviour and neurological symptoms in animals may include drooling a lot, becoming paralysed, inability to swallow, continuously vocalise (barking, whining, howling etc), and becoming aggressive.
However, Ngcobo said animals may just appear weak and unresponsive. Any mammal can become infected with rabies, but the biggest threat to human health is infected dogs and cats.
“Therefore, if you suspect that you have been exposed to an animal that may have rabies, it is critically important to wash the wound very well with soap under running water and to immediately seek preventative treatment at your nearest health-care facility. Doing this can save your life,” he said.
Ngcobo said all dogs and cats must be vaccinated against rabies, as required by law.
“This is how you can protect your pets and family. Enquire with your local state veterinarian, animal health technician, private veterinarian or animal welfare organisation for access to rabies vaccinations,” he said.