Dogs may be a man’s best friend, but playing with them can be scary when thinking about possible risks such as rabies. Rabies is a troublemaker in the world of viruses, but vaccination and treatment can help minimise the effects of this deadly disease commonly carried by dogs.
According to Johannesburg-based research veterinarian Dr Siphesihle Nxumalo, rabies is an infectious disease caused by a virus that affects the nervous systems of all mammals. It is a zoonotic disease, meaning that rabies can be transmitted from animals to humans.
“The rabies virus is spread to humans and other animals through contact with the saliva of infected animals. Bites, scratches, or licks to wounds, grazes, broken skin, or the lining of the mouth and nose are examples of unsafe contact.”
Look out for signs
Nxumalo tells Health For Mzansi that non-specific symptoms may be evident in dogs at first but include fever, inactivity, decreased appetite, and vomiting.
“Within days to weeks, signs may progress to weakness, poor movement coordination, progressive paralysis, breathing and swallowing difficulties, excessive salivation, abnormal behaviour, aggression, or self-mutilation. The incubation period (time taken from exposure to an infectious agent until signs and symptoms are first apparent) may vary from several weeks to months, but once symptoms appear, the disease is fatal in both animals and humans.”
Vaccination is vital
Prevention of rabies in humans has proven to be most effective through the vaccination of dogs and cats. Nxumalo says these pets may receive their primary vaccination at 12 weeks of age and a booster vaccine four weeks later.
“Subsequently, booster vaccines are required every year after that, and then every three years. It is vital that the vaccine be administered by a veterinary or authorised person and that a signed vaccination card be issued to the pet owner (Animal Diseases Act No. 35 of 1984, and the act was amended in 2000 (Government Gazette, 7 April 2000 – No 21045 page 21).
|Species||Primary||1st Booster||1 year later booster||Every 3 years booster|
|Cats and dogs||12 weeks old||16 weeks old||1 year 4 months old||4 years and 4 months, etc.|
“Unvaccinated pets can become exposed to rabies when they come into contact with an unvaccinated rabid stray dog or cat or rabid wild animals (mongoose, jackal, fox, etc.). Spaying and neutering pets aids in the control of their population in a community, reducing the number of animals that end up as stray animals. Pets must be kept on leashes when walking in conservation areas where wildlife roams free to decrease the chances of pets interacting with rabid wildlife.”
Danger to humans
She further states that vaccination is also available for humans but is usually given to people who are at high risk of being exposed to the virus, i.e., veterinarians or laboratory personnel who handle potentially infected material. It is always wise to seek advice from your general practitioner.
As the rabies virus is spread to humans and other animals through contact with the saliva of infected animals, Nxumalo advises on what to do after being exposed to the saliva of any unknown, suspicious dog.
“If a dog or cat attacks unprovoked, wash all wounds immediately with soap and rinse under running water for 5–10 minutes, whether or not vaccination status is known. Go immediately to your nearest healthcare facility to get rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP can prevent rabies virus infections in humans if administered promptly and correctly.”
Nxumalo emphasises that it is important to seek immediate medical attention, and if the health facility you have gone to does not have stock of PEP, it is your right to demand that an ambulance be arranged to transport you to the nearest healthcare facility with stock.
It is therefore mandatory for pet owners to ensure that their pets are vaccinated against rabies.
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