Rabies in Humans Increasing in South Africa

Rabies in Humans Increasing in South Africa

The recent increase in human rabies cases has brought the complicated connection between human and animal health issues into sharp focus.

Dr. Alison Lubisi, the research team manager of the diagnostic services program at the Agricultural Research Council – Onderstepoort Veterinary Research (ARC-OVR), is pushing for pet owners and farmers to vaccinate their animals to avoid the further spread of the deadly disease.

“Rabies is endemic in SA and we’ve seen horrific cases in humans, with rabid dogs biting small children. It is mostly fatal,” said Lubisi, who is also a veterinarian and virologist. Animals need constant booster shots or they might not be protected against new strains.

Dr. Lubisi believes that educating the general public is key to stopping the spread of the rabies virus.

“We find vaccine hesitancy comes down to a lack of proper knowledge, so we need to continually educate pet owners and farmers about the importance of getting their pets and livestock vaccinated.”

Lubisi said people needed to be aware of the threat of disease-causing pathogens or germs mutating if left unchecked.

“Animals need constant booster shots or they might not be protected against new strains. Globalisation and global warming are real. We have seen how germs and diseases change their characteristics and behaviour over the years, sometimes even crossing between species.

“I vouch for vaccines. We need to keep telling the good stories and raising awareness. It’s very important to get everyone on the same page for the benefit of us all.”

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), as of November 23, 2021,  17 laboratory-confirmed human rabies cases had been reported that year in South Africa. Most of these cases were from the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo. The NICD is becoming increasingly concerned with the growing number of human rabies cases reported over the past two months.

“Although cases are reported annually, 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,” the NICD said.

“The increase is related to outbreaks of rabies in domestic dogs in the affected provinces. 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 November 18.

“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 the Cape Town surrounds in decades have also been reported in recent months. 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,” said the NICD.

Dogs and cats must get regular rabies shots by law, and in most provinces, there are frequent vaccination drives. According to Lubisi, companion animals and production animals are an essential link in the public healthcare chain.

 


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