File photo. Photo: Jacques Naude

KwaZulu-Natal - The death of a fourth rabies victim in KwaZulu-Natal is likely to prompt more people to get their pets vaccinated, say Durban vets.

“During June and July, we saw a massive increase, far more than 200 percent, in the number of pets being brought in for the vaccination.

“We were seeing more than 20 dogs every day,” said Dr Yesh Govender, a vet at the Kloof and Highway SPCA.

The SPCA had also held a free rabies clinic, which had been well supported, but only by residents of the surrounding suburbs, Govender said.

He said this had prompted the SPCA to start outreach programmes.

“We targeted libraries and schools, showing people what signs and symptoms to look out for, so they would not have to give up their animals.”

He said that in the past two months his team had identified two other positive cases in Mariannhill, where the most recent victim, 21-year-old Siyabonga Knowledge Majola, lived. Majola died at the weekend.

“We found one on August 1 and the other on July 18,” he said.

The dogs were put down.

He said some of the people who had come in to report suspected rabies cases misinterpreted the symptoms.

“There are two kinds of rabies: one causes aggression, while the other is ‘dumb’, meaning that the animal becomes meek and mild.”

He cautioned that aggression alone was not a sign of rabies – a change of behaviour was a better indicator. So a dog that was normally aggressive should not be mistaken as rabid.

He appealed to owners to check their dogs’ vaccination documents and discuss rabies with their vets.

“One vaccination is not going to protect your dog. They need to be vaccinated every year.”

Dr Philip Parry, of the Windermere Vet Clinic in Morningside, said the three deaths earlier this year had raised awareness of rabies, and the fourth was likely to add to that trend.

“We saw many people who had let their vaccinations lapse. They picked them up again, especially after the death of the Underberg farmer [29-year-old Graham Anderson]. So we haven’t really seen new people seeking vaccinations for their pets.”

He said that the deaths had been a “wake-up call” for many in the province.

“Many people were quite shocked that you could contract the virus without being bitten [as in Anderson’s case, where he contracted the virus when saliva from the dog made contact with an open wound].”

Dr Omashini Armoogum of the Montclair Animal Hospital said the hospital had also embarked on an awareness campaign, after hearing of people approaching other clinics wanting to put their pets to sleep, even if they were not necessarily rabid.

“People don’t know any better, so they need to be educated about the virus.”

At the end of May, a national daily newspaper came under fire from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for a misleading report.

The report said that pet owners needed to stay away from their newly vaccinated pets for one month, a claim the department called “scientifically inaccurate”, because pets were not vaccinated with a live virus.

“One cannot induce a rabies infection in a pet… Do parents stay away from their babies… for a month after they’ve been vaccinated against common children’s diseases?” asked department spokesman, Steve Galane, at the time.

The first of this year’s victims in KwaZulu-Natal was an eight-year-old child from Bergville, and the second was a 52-year-old woman, Clementina Cele, of Ngonyameni, outside Umlazi. - Daily News

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