Dr Nasiha Soofie, a medical doctor as well as PhD candidate specializing in infectious diseases, spoke to Benito Vergotine on The Honest Truth about the dangers of rabies.
Listen to the conversation here: What is Rabies?
Rabies is a vaccine-preventable viral disease which occurs in more than 150 countries and territories.1a Dogs are the main source of human rabies deaths, contributing up to 99% of all rabies transmissions to humans.1a Infection causes tens of thousands of deaths every year, mainly in Asia and Africa, with 40% of people bitten by suspect rabid animals being children under 15 years of age.1a The disease can be eliminated through vaccination of dogs and prevention of dog bites.1a
Rabies is endemic in South Africa and human rabies cases are reported every year, with most cases being transmitted by dogs.2pg63e Between five and 30 human rabies cases are confirmed annually, and the number of cases correlate with the prevalence of rabies in domestic dogs in areas around the country.2pg64a More than 70% of cases reported were children and teenagers.2pg64a
Given the severity of the disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) have established a global “United Against Rabies” collaboration to provide a common strategy to achieve “Zero human rabies deaths by 2030”.1a
“One person dies of a rabies infection every 15 minutes,” says Dr Nasiha Soofie, Medical Head for Sanofi Pasteur Vaccines in South Africa. “The virus is shed in saliva and may be spread to humans through the bite or scratch from an infected animal. Therefore, we encourage all pet owners to vaccinate their pets in order to help prevent this horrific disease.”
Soofie says that in addition to having your pets vaccinated, it is important to seek immediate medical attention if someone is bitten. “Immediate, effective wound washing, and treatment followed by a rabies vaccine, is critical to prevent the progression of a rabies infection, onset of rabies symptoms and death. Rabies vaccines may be used by almost everyone, including pregnant and lactating women, children, the elderly and people who have a compromised immune system.”
A neglected tropical disease, rabies predominantly affects poor and vulnerable populations who live in remote rural locations.1b In addition, treating a rabies exposure can be a catastrophic financial burden on affected families.1c
“Vaccinating dogs is the most cost-effective strategy for preventing rabies infections in humans,” says Soofie. “That’s why it is vitally important to ensure your pets’ rabies vaccinations are up to date especially if you are in an immediate outbreak area. Together and with good vaccination practices, we can rid South Africa of this fatal disease and protect our communities, our loved ones and our pets.”