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Top tips for avoiding rabies!
Your dog-loving kid may be at risk for contracting the killer disease, rabies.
A 3-year-old child in Limpopo Province died recently from rabies which he’d contracted following being bitten by a rabid dog. In addition, a 2-year-old Johannesburg child died of rabies after being scratched by an unvaccinated domestic puppy. Rabies, if left untreated, carries 100% fatality rate. Despite a great reduction in the numbers of Rabies-related deaths in South Africa, the risks remain high, especially for children, as they come into contact with dogs more often, and are less aware of the health risks to which they are exposed.

In SA, rabies is responsible for between 15 and 30 deaths annually. These cases are almost always as a result of canine rabies- dog bites- and the majority of the victims received no treatment after being bitten or exposed to rabies. Although rabies is most often found in rural areas, it is not uncommon for cases to occur closer to cities.

Here are some facts on rabies to help you protect your child against rabies exposure and infection:

What is rabies?
  • Rabies is primarily a disease of children, who are particularly at risk due to their close contact with dogs, and are more likely than adults to suffer multiple bites and bites to the face and head, both of which impose a higher risk of contracting rabies.
  • Rabies is a neurotropic disease (encephalitic disease i.e. targets the brain) caused by the rabies virus and can affect humans and any other warm blooded animal.
  • The virus is transmitted in saliva from the close contact with an infected animal (bites, scratches, licks on broken skin and mucous membranes).
  • The early signs of rabies in humans are non-specific and may include fever or headaches and are followed by rapid progression of nervous signs such as confusion, sleepiness or agitation.
  • In animals initial signs are also non-specific.
  • Importantly, clinical presentation may be furious or dumb with furious rabies characterized by aggression and dumb rabies by paralysis.
  • Incubation periods are extremely variable but usually 2-8 weeks after an exposure.
  • The disease should be treated immediately after exposure but if no action is taken and once clinical rabies sets in, it is too late for treatment and the person will not survive.
How to avoid exposure to rabies

  • Avoid contact with stray animals, and have your own domestic animals spayed/neutered to limit their exposure to infected animals.
  • Vaccinate your pets, and keep the vaccinations up-to-date.
  • Avoid contact with wild animals, particularly if they are acting strangely, such as wild animals acting tamely.
While it is not always possible to prevent exposure to Rabies, it is possible for parents to prevent rabies-related deaths by seeking urgent medical attention for their kids, even if there are doubts that the attacking dog is affected.

What to do if exposure to rabies is suspected
  • If your child is bitten, try and establish whether or not the animal has rabies. If rabies is suspected, post-exposure prophylaxis must be administered. It’s always safer to seek treatment, even if you aren’t sure, as once the symptoms appear, rabies is 100% fatal.
  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, and seek urgent medical attention, including rabies post-exposure prophylaxis, anti-tetanus vaccination and broad-spectrum antibiotics to combat potential bacterial infections in the wound.
  • Provided it is correctly administered, post-exposure prophylaxis is 100% effective in treating a child exposed to rabies, provided that the symptoms have not presented themselves.
  • Always get treatment as soon as possible, complete the treatment, and take care of wounds.
  • Find out the geographical location of the incident.
  • Find out what kind of animal was involved, and whether or not the attack was provoked or unprovoked. In addition, find out if the animal has been vaccinated.
  • If the animal cannot be caught/euthanized/tested for rabies, it must be assumed that it has rabies, and treatment should go ahead on the victim of the attack.
By telling your children what to look out for in the animals they see around them, and how to avoid contact with rabid animals, you could be saving their lives.

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