The heartbreaking news of a person with rabies reported recently in the media caused a serious controversy amongst Namibian.
People are debating about the fate of an infected person, the cause of rabies, the symptoms as well as the control of this fearful disease.
Although the number of deaths in people has gone low over the last couple of years, there are still reported cases of rabies in people. There is between 15-20 people mostly from northern Communal Areas in Namibia who shockingly die from rabies related illness annually. Since rabies is a zoonotic disease that is transferred from animals to people, it is not solely the responsibility of veterinary officials to control the disease, but rather a joint effort from the wild life societies, the livestock industry and pet owners.
What the nation should realize with the latest human case is that we can never talk enough about the disease and in fact, we need more awareness on Rabies control. Thus, in an effort to curb this disease, let’s talk about the brief facts about rabies once again and give some pointers on how to prevent getting bitten by dogs.
Rabies (“orundumba”, “hondsdolheid”, “endabi ile eenghwengu”) is a dangerous and deadly viral disease which both animals and humans can get. The virus is transmitted from animal to animal especially after a bite, and it is also one of the most feared zoonotic diseases (can be transmitted from animal to human). Jackals are the most common transmitter of the disease to livestock. In kudus, apart from the bite by infected animals, the disease spread when the animals lick each other or they pick the virus when sharing grazing and water points. Worldwide, roughly 97% of rabies cases in people come from dog bites. But other source of infection comes from foxes, cats, bats and skunks.
The most prominent sign of an infected animal is the sudden change in behavior where animals suddenly get furious and aggressive with profuse salivation. You should be careful that even your own dog may attack you without warning and bite at imaginary flies, its cage or food bowls. The dogs may wander and stare aimlessly, eating soil and sticks. Cattle bellow, profusely salivate, go mad and become aggressive and have difficulty in walking. Sheep and goats also become suddenly aggressive and salivate. What is noticeable weird is that wild animals such as jackals and kudus suddenly become tame and can come close to human without fear or enter homes and gardens.
People are infected when bitten by an infected animal because the virus is spread in the saliva. It is also possible for people to be infected by saliva contamination of cuts, the mouth or eyes. That’s why it is important not to stick your hand in an animal that is profusely salivating. The signs of the disease in people include anxiety, restlessness, headaches, hallucination, confusion, agitation, fever and fear of water. You will notice that the person just keep on starring aimlessly and appears fearful of any movement and noise and the speech is illogical. Yes, the person may also bark like a dog and produce large quantities of saliva and tears. Eventually there is convulsions, paralysis, coma and sadly death. It takes normally 2-12 weeks, but can be as long as two years for people to show signs of the disease after being bitten by an infected animal.
If bitten, the most important initial action is thorough wound management. You should quickly wash the wounds vigorously, using soap or a disinfectant. Rather not attempt to stop the bleeding because some of the virus might be flushed with the blood. You should also apply a disinfectant on the wound after washing. Then seek medical attention immediately from the nearest clinic or doctor. You will be given a recommended course of post-exposure prophylaxis anti-rabies injections that will prevent rabies from developing. It is very important that you complete the course of these injections because you can die if you don’t get all the injections.
You should also notify your vet or police when bitten, who will investigate and if necessary destroy the animal. I also urge our people to notify veterinarians immediately if you notice animals behaving strangely and rabies is suspected.
To prevent the disease, it is imperative that dogs and cats are vaccinated timely and regularly to reduce the risk to people and animals. Pets are vaccinated twice in the first year starting at 3months. In Namibia we recommend the vaccine to be repeated yearly especially in rural dogs. But in the city for dogs that are not usually exposed to other dogs or wild animals, the vaccine maybe repeated every three years.
Having said the above, since most of the human cases get rabies after being bitten by infected dogs, here are some tips on how to avoid getting bitten by dogs:
• NEVER disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
• If a dog comes close to you: stand still, keep your arms down, and your hands folded, look at your feet and keep quiet (in fact, imagine you are a tree). The dog will realize that you mean no harm to it and will most likely leave you alone.
• Stay away from sick animals that are not properly restrained or animals that appear aggressive and drools saliva.
• Stay away from animals that you do not know especially stray dogs.
• Keep away from wildlife.
• Don’t encourage a wild animal to come up to you by feeding it.It might seem tame and allow you to get close, but remember that this is not the way wild animals usually act. Something could be wrong.
Finally, the more we as stakeholders talk and take actions against this deadly disease, the more likely we as a country will be able to win the war against Rabies!!! Now that you know about the danger of this killer disease, get those dogs and cats vaccinated timely and please don’t think that wild animals that enter your home are sweet! It’s high time we kill this killer disease!
Dr Baby Kaurivi-Katunahange “The Village Vet”
(MVet, BVSc, BSc) Lecturing Veterinarian, Namibia