South Africa

Thoko Didiza urges pet owners to vaccinate animals against rabies

Pretoria - Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza urged animal owners on Tuesday to vaccinate their animals against rabies as South Africa observed the 15th annual World Rabies Day.

This year’s theme, “Rabies: facts, not fear”, focuses on eradicating the many fears and myths surrounding rabies and replacing them with concrete facts to empower people.

According to global statistics, rabies kills at least one person in the world every nine minutes. The World Organisation for Animal Health says more than 70 000 people die from this virus each year, and about 95% of these deaths occur in Africa and Asia.

“South Africa is committed to the global ’Zero by 30’ drive. The goal is to have zero human deaths due to dog-mediated rabies by 2030.

’’This can be achieved through adequate vaccination of dog (and cat) populations, as well as provision of treatment to humans that have been exposed to rabid animals, ” said Didiza

Rabies is a "very serious" disease which is present in all nine provinces of South Africa.

It is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be passed from infected animals to humans. Any mammal can become infected with rabies, but the biggest threat to human health is infected dogs.

Dog-mediated rabies is particularly rife in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, as well as the border between the Free State and Lesotho.

The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva of an infected animal when it bites, scratches or licks a person. The disease affects the brain and once clinical signs become visible, there is no curative treatment, and it is fatal.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development advised that if one suspects that they have been exposed to an animal that may have rabies, it is critically important to wash the wound well with soap under running water and to immediately seek preventative treatment at the nearest healthcare facility.

Vaccination of dogs and cats against rabies is a requirement in law.

"It is vitally important that every pet owner, in all walks of life, have their dogs and cats vaccinated in order to protect our communities against this disease.

’’The first rabies vaccine is given at 12 weeks (3 months) of age, followed by a booster vaccination between one to 12 months later,’’ said Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo.

"Thereafter, a booster every three years. In high-risk areas, yearly vaccination is strongly recommended.

’’However, it is never too late for your pet to receive their first vaccination, followed by the booster protocol. Don’t hesitate, vaccinate."

He said rabies infected animals show" "typical signs" including changes in behaviour and nervous symptoms.

"They may salivate/drool a lot, may not be able to swallow, continuously vocalise (barking, whining, howling etc.), may become paralysed and often become aggressive or the contrary, non-responsive," said Ngcobo.

"It is very important to stay away from animals with these symptoms, and to report the animal immediately to your nearest State Veterinary Office or to the police. Also notify them of any possible human contact with suspect rabid animals."

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