The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has reported an increase in the number of human rabies cases across the country.
“As of 23 November 2021, a total of 17 laboratory-confirmed human rabies cases have been reported in South Africa. The latter was reported from Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo provinces,” the NICD said.
Rabies is a fatal viral infection of the brain. The virus is spread by contact with the infected saliva of a rabid animal. Humans can come into contact with the virus-laden saliva in different ways, for example, bites and other wounds inflicted by these animals via the eyes, nose, mouth, or broken skin.
In October and November 2021, six cases of human rabies were confirmed from the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo provinces. In addition, several suspected cases from these areas are under investigation at the time of this report.
The NICD added that although cases are reported annually in South Africa, the occurrence of cases in these provinces has increased compared to previous years.
“This compares to eight laboratory-confirmed cases for 2020, 10 for 2019, 16 for 2018, six for 2017, and one for 2016. During these years cases were also mostly reported from the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo provinces,” the Institute said.
It said the increased number of human cases is related to outbreaks of rabies in domestic dogs in the affected provinces.
According to the NICD, in the Eastern Cape, particularly the Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City districts, more than 400 cases of rabies in dogs have been confirmed for 2021 up to 18 November.
In KwaZulu-Natal, the eThekwini and King Cetshwayo districts have been most affected with nearly 300 cases of rabies in dogs reported up to November 18.
The first occurrence of dog rabies cases in Cape Town surrounds in decades has also been reported in recent months. A total of four dog cases were reported from Khayelitsha and Gordon’s Bay. No additional cases have been reported since mid-October 2021.
To date, no human rabies cases have been reported from the Western Cape province.
What to do if you’ve come into contact with a rabid dog?
When possible exposures in humans do occur (for example through bites or scratches inflicted by a suspected rabid animal), all wounds must be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
It is then crucial that rabies post-exposure prophylaxis is sought immediately at a healthcare facility to prevent the infection. Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis is considered a life-saving emergency intervention following possible rabies virus exposure. Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis entails thorough cleaning of the wound site/s followed by rabies vaccination and rabies immunoglobulin therapy.