2022 marks the 16th annual World Rabies Day, which is commemorated on the 28th of September. This year’s theme, according to the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, is Rabies: One Health, Zero Deaths. This sends a more positive message about the benefits of vaccination.
The theme also aligns directly with the Zero by 30 Global Strategic Plan for the elimination of dog-mediated human rabies deaths by 2030. It highlights that rabies is preventable and that it can be eliminated.
In fact, although rabies is the only vaccine-preventable Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD), there are still 59,000 people who die globally from the disease on an annual basis.
“Almost all human rabies cases in South Africa and globally are caused by bites from infected dogs, making vaccination of dogs the most effective way to reduce the risk of this disease to both humans and dogs,” explains Dr Guy Fyvie, Veterinary Advisor at Hill’s Pet Nutrition.
“Locally, the disease is still very present, particularly in rural areas where many dogs are not vaccinated against the virus. In addition, rabies is commonly reported among stray or feral dogs and cats.”
As pet parents, the first step we can take in the prevention of rabies is to vaccinate our pets. In South Africa it is law that pets are vaccinated against rabies. Dogs and cats should receive their first rabies vaccinations before three months of age. They’ll receive their second vaccination at three months, a third within 12 months, and annually thereafter.
How to keep yourself safe from rabies
Dr Fyvie provides some tips on how to keep you and your family safe from rabies:
- Never take a chance. If bitten, scratched or in contact with the saliva of suspect animals, assume the worst and follow the treatment protocol as prescribed by the healthcare workers. There is simply nothing that can be done once the symptoms present themselves.
- Ensure your pets’ rabies vaccinations are up to date and if you are in an immediate outbreak area, have your pet revaccinated. If you can’t provide proof of a pet’s vaccination status, they may be euthanised, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms or not.
- Never let your pets roam the streets.
- Do not let your pets interact with unknown animals. An animal can become infected by fighting with another animal, even over a fence, via saliva.
- Do not approach stray dogs or cats, especially if they are showing abnormal behaviour, such as being aggressive or unusually docile.
- If you suspect an animal is infected, contact the health authorities immediately. Do not try to restrain the animal yourself.
- Donate to a welfare organisation that conducts rabies vaccination outreach programmes. The higher the vaccinated animal population, the less chance there is of an outbreak for both humans and animals.