PRETORIA – The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has advised community members and holiday travellers to avoid picking up or approaching stray dogs and cats to curtail the spread of rabies over the festive season.
Rabies is prevalent in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces, as well as the border between South Africa and Lesotho around Free State, according to departmental spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo.
The coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape are high-risk areas for rabies.
“The public is advised not to approach or pick up stray dogs and cats from these areas for whatever purpose, and to report such animals to the nearest welfare organisation, SPCA or the police station. By picking up stray animals and homing them, you could aid the spread of rabies to other areas and provinces, and put your life and that of your family at risk,” Ngcobo said.
“People are encouraged 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 handling animals that you do not know.”
Rabies is classified as “a very serious zoonotic disease”, meaning that it can be passed from infected animals to humans.
“Any mammal can become infected with rabies, but the biggest threat to human health is infected dogs and cats. The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva of an infected animal when it bites, scratches or licks a person,” Ngcobo said.
Animals that are infected with rabies may show changes in behaviour, but these vary widely from unprovoked attacks to becoming overly friendly or just appearing sleepy.
The infected animals may drool a lot, may not be able to swallow, continuously vocalise – including barking, whining, howling, etc - and sometimes become aggressive or they may just appear weak and unresponsive.
“The disease is fatal because it affects the brain and, once clinical signs become visible, there is no curative treatment,” Ngcobo said.
“If you suspect that you have been exposed to an animal that may have rabies, it is important to wash the wound well with soap under running water and to immediately seek preventative treatment at your nearest health-care facility. Doing this can save your life.”