NICD warns of rabies infections as dog owners defer vaccinations due to Covid-19

01 March 2021 - 06:00 By sipokazi fokazi
Rabies is present in the saliva of an infected animal and is transferred to humans through biting‚ scratching or wounds that come into contact with the animal’s saliva. File photo.
Rabies is present in the saliva of an infected animal and is transferred to humans through biting‚ scratching or wounds that come into contact with the animal’s saliva. File photo.
Image: koolsabuy/123rf.com

Fear of contracting Covid-19 has been associated with a drop in childhood immunisation in the past, but according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) the pandemic may also have resulted in neglect of pet vaccinations too.

So far this year, two people have died from rabies. In total, eight people died of confirmed rabies infections in 2020.

In its latest monthly communiqué, the NICD said the two deaths were that of a nine-year-old boy from Matangari village in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, and a two-year-old boy from eNgonyameni near Umlazi in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The Covid-19 epidemic in SA has affected the control and prevention of rabies. As expected, dog owners and communities were less involved in the vaccination of their pets. Vaccination of dogs (and cats) remains the single most important intervention in the control and prevention of rabies,” said the NICD.

“As Covid-19 has modified care-seeking behaviour and access to health services, access to rabies post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may also have been affected,” the institute noted.

The majority of cases of human rabies are linked to dog bites, and vaccinating against it is the most important intervention in the control of the disease.

“Since there is no treatment for clinical rabies disease, rabies PEP is the only approach to the prevention of rabies infection once exposure has occurred,” the NICD said.

Groome said the Thohoyandou boy was apparently not given rabies post-exposure prophylaxis after a dog bite in December. The child showed general weakness, pupil dilation and hypersalivation, and died in January, a day after he was admitted to hospital.

A sample of saliva obtained from the child on admission tested positive for rabies nucleic acid, confirming that he had died of rabies.

A second case this year was confirmed on February 15, and this was the first case of human rabies in 2021.

“The child sustained an injury on his head while playing with a dog in the last week of January 2021. The boy was taken to hospital, but reportedly no rabies PEP was administered,” the NICD said.

The primary source of rabies in Africa is dogs.

In SA rabies has mostly been reported from the provinces along the east coast, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, where there have been repeated outbreaks of rabies in dogs. A total of 144 rabid dogs were reported in KwaZulu-Natal in 2020. About 93 animals that died of rabies in October last year were from the Eastern Cape.

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