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Rabies on the Rise in SA; 99.9% Fatality Rate if infected

Dec 13, 2021

By Naadiya Adams

A disease that has seemingly slipped under the radar amid the covid-19 era remains one of the deadliest infections on earth. Rabies infections are on the rise and with a 99.9% fatality rate, it’s a pandemic of a whole different kind.

“Rabies is a virus, it’s a virus that affects the brain, it spreads from animals to humans not from humans to humans… the virus is contained in the saliva of the infected animal, usually a dog as most of our human cases are associated with dog exposure,” explains the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ Dr. Jacqueline Weyer.

While it may be a natural occurrence in animals, the last few months have seen an increase in the number of human rabies cases.

“Any event that can introduce that infected saliva into the body would then constitute an exposure event. Be it bites, scratches or any other wound that would be infected by the rabid animal,” says Weyer.

As the disease attacks the brain, systems within the body are then affected and some of the changes seen in both animals and humans are often behavioral; the infected individual becomes aggressive and agitated. And in severe cases, they may even hallucinate or suffer deliria.

Weyer says in relation to humans, almost all their cases come from dogs, in urban areas it may be a neighbour’s dog or a dog in the area while in more rural areas it tends to be stray dogs in the community.

Dr. Weyer says the situation in the Western Cape illustrated this perfectly: “Dog rabies has not been reported in the Western Cape for decades, but due to raging epidemics in other parts of the country, and low dog rabies vaccination coverage, the disease spilled over from the affected areas in the country to parts of the Western Cape. You just need one rabid dog to come into contact with an unvaccinated dog to set off a new outbreak.”

In South Africa dog-transmitted rabies is an ongoing problem, the use of post-exposure prophylaxis is vital in exposed human rabies cases.

According to the NICD, as of 9 November, there have been 14 confirmed human rabies cases in South Africa. Six in the Eastern Cape, Four in Kwa-Zulu Natal, four in Limpopo, and a further 3 probable cases in Kwa-Zulu Natal, according to Medical Scientist at NICD Dr. Jacqueline Weyer. That’s a 100% increase compared to the 7 cases reported in 2020.

Fortunately, while most shots are for vaccine-preventable diseases, rabies vaccines can be given for both pre and post-exposure to rabies so even after you’ve been bitten you should receive treatment immediately.

According to medical experts, rabies is fatal if not treated before symptoms appear.

For more information visit:
The NICD website:
The Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) website:



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