What is rabies?

In South Africa, rabies infections cause around 30 human deaths a year Pinocchio ost download. With proper treatment, these deaths could be prevented which is why it is so important for you to know the in’s and out’s of this deadly infection.

What causes rabies and how could I be infected?

Rabies is a PREVENTABLE infection caused by a virus. This virus, found in the spit of infected animals, is spread to humans through:

  • a bite
  • a scratch
  • the saliva getting in your eyes
  • if the animal licks you where there is an open wound on the skin.

Bites from stray dogs cause most infections in South Africa, but other animals which may spread the infection include:

  • Infected Bats
  • Monkeys
  • Cats
  • Cows
  • Horses
  • Goats

What are the symptoms of rabies infection?

In people the initial symptoms are similar to Flu- a headache, fever and body aches. After a few days this progresses to

  • nausea and vomiting
  • confusion
  • difficulty in swallowing (and a fear of water)
  • excessive saliva
  • aggression
  • paralysis and death

The virus attacks the brain and once symptoms of the illness are seen survival is unlikely.

In animals, you may notice no symptoms (an animal can be infected with Rabies for some time before starting to show symptoms), or the animal may behave in an aggressive/ confused way, salivate excessively or have weak or paralysed back legs.

How is rabies treated?

Usually it is difficult to say whether or not the animal that bit you is infected with rabies or not. The only way to be sure of this is if the animal is caught and tested- and as you can imagine this is not easy, not quick or often not possible to do. This is why your doctor will assess your risk of infection by asking a lot of questions, and then decide if you will need treatment.

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This treatment comes in the form of a series of injections – Rabies Immunoglobulin and Rabies Vaccine. If started soon after a bite from an infected animal, this is 100% effective in preventing rabies infection.

How can we prevent rabies?

Luckily we can do a lot to prevent infections:

  1. Make sure you vaccinate your pets- and they need to have a rabies booster vaccine every 3 years after that
  2. Do not handle wild/ stray or unknown animals. Prevent being bitten!
  3. If you do get bitten by an animal you think may be infected get treatment promptly- on the same day! First wash the injury well with soap and water for at least 10min then get to a doctor.
  4. People at high risk of getting the illness can get vaccinated- for example vets, those who work with animal welfare organisations, wildlife researchers. If you are vaccinated, you will still need treatment when you are bitten, BUT it makes the treatment simpler.

Author: Dr Lynelle