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Port Elizabeth - The Eastern Cape Department of Health on Friday urged the public to treat all dog bites as harmful and if bitten, to seek medial assistance immediately, this after a 14-year-old girl died of rabies.

Department of Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said that the warning followed the death of the girl who was admitted to Frere Hospital Intensive Care Unit after she had contracted rabies encephalitis earlier this month. 

"The patient was referred from Butterworth Hospital before being admitted at ICU, the patient was already in the late stages of the disease, and there was unfortunately little doctors could do," said Kupelo. 

Kupelo said the presence of the rabies virus was confirmed in a post-mortem sample by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NICD). 

He said the girl was reported to have been bitten by a stray dog in the village of Kotana, near Nqkamakwe, at the end of November last year. 

She was well until she started developing weakness, confusion and fever a week before attending Butterworth Hospital. 

Kupelo said that the rabies virus was an endemic in the Eastern Cape, where it circulated in a number of wild animals. "It sporadically crosses over to domestic dogs, that become rabid, and then bite humans. While rabies infection is 100% fatal, it can be prevented by appropriate wound care and vaccination. 

"If the health practitioner prescribes a rabies vaccination schedule, it is essential that all five doses are given until 28 days." Kupelo said, adding that children were at the greatest risk for dog bites, and should be educated about avoiding unknown dogs, especially those behaving strangely.

African News Agency/ANA