Media Statement from the Department of Agriculture

Media Statement from the Department of Agriculture



04 JUNE 2012


Release: Immediate

The truth about rabies

This press release is issued in response to the scientifically incorrect article, titled, "Rabies warning for pet owners", that was published in The New Age on 30 May 2012, by Chris Makhaye.

Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that is transmitted from rabies infected animals to humans primarily via bite wounds and scratches. Rabies cases in humans occur more commonly amongst children, the reasons being that approximately 40% of bite victims worldwide are children and children are commonly bitten in the face. A human cannot contract rabies by touching or being bitten by healthy dogs and cats.

How does one tell if an animal is infected with rabies? A rabies infected animal, sometimes also referred to as a rabid animal, most commonly will show behavioural and temperamental changes, e.g., tame animals becoming aggressive or wild animals losing their fear of humans, appearing to be tame. Other signs may include drooling, inability to swallow, muscle weakness, incoordination, seizures and biting at inanimate objects.

International organisations, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), recommend that domestic animals should be vaccinated against rabies to prevent them from becoming infected with the rabies virus and transmitting rabies to humans. Vaccination of dogs and cats is the only effective way in which rabies can be controlled. In terms of legislation (The Animal Diseases Act, 1984 (Act No 35 of 1984)), owners of dogs and cats must have their pets vaccinated against rabies between the ages of 3 and 7 months, then 12 months later and then again once every 3 years thereafter. The aim of vaccinating a pet against rabies, is to protect it against contracting the disease. This is the same principle as what applies when human babies are taken for their vaccinations at the local clinics. By vaccinating a pet against rabies with a registered vaccine, one cannot induce a rabies infection in a pet, as the vaccine does not contain live virus. Do parents stay away from their babies, and not touch or cuddle their babies for a month after they have been vaccinated against common children diseases? This question sounds just ridiculous, doesn't it? Hence, there is no need to stay away from your pets for a month after they have been vaccinated against rabies, as was claimed in the article published in The New Age.

As rabies causes death in humans following the onset of symptoms, the question should be how one can protect yourself, your family and your pets against rabies. The three most important steps are:

  1. Have your dogs and cats vaccinated against rabies
  2. Teach your children how to react around dogs in order to prevent dog bites:

Do not touch or pick up stray dogs, as their rabies vaccination status is unknown;

•Always ask the owner before you pet a dog;

•Keep their faces away from a dog's face;

•Never bother a dog when it is eating, sleeping or with puppies;

•Never bother a dog when it is in a car, behind a fence, or tied-up - even if it is a dog you know.

  1. In the event of being bitten by a dog in a rabies outbreak area or suspected of having rabies:

•Immediately wash the wound with soap and water;

•Immediately after washing the wound, go to your nearest clinic or preferably District Surgeon.

•Being bitten by an animal with rabies will result in death unless preventative treatment is started immediately;

•Report the bite to your nearest state veterinarian, animal health technician or private veterinarian.

Currently there is a rabies outbreak in KwaZulu-Natal Province (KZN). This outbreak is within the Winterton/Bergville area, and the outbreak is localised. Currently there is one critically ill patient with suspected rabies, and an eight year old child who has died of suspected rabies. Two mass rabies vaccination campaigns for dogs and cats, covering all the problem areas in KZN, are underway. During the past three years, KZN has seen a downward trend in the number of confirmed rabies cases in animals and humans amid some focal outbreaks.

It is estimated that worldwide at least 55 000 people die of rabies every year. Do not become part of this statistic - protect yourself by having your pet vaccinated against rabies!

For more information contact

Mr Steve Galane

Director: Communication Services

Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Tel: +27 12319 7960

Fax: +27 12319 6943

Cell: +27 83635 7346