Due to collective efforts by Government and stakeholders, the rate of human rabies in Namibia has slightly declined but the rate of infection of dogs and kudus remains unacceptably high and worrisome.
Last Saturday (28 September), in celebration of the World Rabies Day, the country held awareness and pet vaccination campaigns across the regions. The initiative attempted to raise money towards local rabies prevention and control programmes.
For pets, the control is mostly achieved by the annual vaccination but for the kudus, time is running out. These precious animals are dying from rabies in large numbers in this country. If we don’t apply an urgent, effective control measure, the whole population might be wiped out in years to come.
Before we go further in trying to find ways to control rabies in kudus, let’s refresh our minds on what this dreadful disease is and how to control it.
Rabies (“orundumba”, “hondsdolheid”, “endabi ile eenghwengu”) is a deadly disease, which both animals and humans can contract. The virus is transmitted from animal to another, especially after a bite and it is also one of the most feared zoonotic diseases (can be transmitted from animal to human). In kudus, apart from the bite by infected animals, the disease spreads when the animals lick each other or pick the virus when sharing grazing and water points.
The most prominent sign of an infected animal is the sudden change in behaviour where animals suddenly get aggressive, as in cattle that may bellow, have difficulty walking and salivate profusely. Careful about attacks from your own dog, especially when it bites at imaginary flies, its cage or food bowls. The dog may wander and stare aimlessly, eat soil and sticks.
Sheep and goats also become suddenly aggressive and salivate. What is noticeably weird is, wild animals such as jackals and kudus suddenly become tamed and can come close to humans without fear by entering homes and gardens. The terminal stages of rabies in all animals end with paralysis and death.
The signs of the disease in people include anxiety, headaches, fever and fear of water, any movement and noise. It normally takes 2-10 weeks for people and animals to show signs of the disease after being bitten by an infected animal.
If bitten, don’t delay; quickly wash the wounds thoroughly with soap or a disinfectant and then immediately seek medical attention from the nearest clinic. You will be given a recommended course of injections that will prevent rabies from developing. You should also notify your vet or police when bitten to investigate and if necessary, destroy the animal. Similarly, you should report any strange animal behaviour, especially if rabies is suspected.
Since people are infected when bitten by an infected animal because the virus is spread in saliva, it is important not to handle an animal with rabies signs. Also, do not handle or go near wild animals that seem untamed and don’t show fear.
To prevent rabies, it is imperative that dogs and cats are vaccinated timely and regularly to reduce the risk on people and animals. Just to remind the public, pets are vaccinated twice in the first year, starting at three months. In Namibia, we recommend the vaccine to be repeated yearly, especially in rural dogs. But in the city where dogs are not usually exposed to other dogs or wild animals, the vaccine maybe repeated every three years.
In recognition of the seriousness of the rabies situation, stakeholders, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry under the Veterinary Services, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the Ministry of Health and Social Services, the farmers’ association [in particular the National Agriculture Union (Nau)] and Agra Professional Services, have embarked upon a campaign to compact this disease.
A project was particularly launched recently in Windhoek by its patron, Dr Libertine Amathila, to control rabies in kudu. Many visitors come to Namibia to experience our abundant wildlife. The kudu make up a large part of local game farming trade, which contributes to the Namibian economy. However, these animals face a potential stand-still due to the threat of rabies.
You might wonder, “how come it is only the kudu population that is notably affected and how can I inject the kudu in the wild?” There is the possibility of giving an oral vaccine to kudus by throwing baits in the kudu populated areas. But how do you make sure the kudus eat the bait? The possibility also exists in throwing the vaccine in their drinking water. Thus, to enhance our understanding of the kudu, rabies need further research and the applications of such possible control strategies are proving to be an expensive venture.
Thus, I urge everyone out there to stick their hands in their pockets and donate funds towards the Control of Rabies in Kudus in Namibia Project. For further details and to make a donation, contact the Nau office, any Agra branch, or your nearest veterinary office. Every contribution counts! Let’s kill this killer disease!