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By Enkosi Selane

Digital Journalist

Authorities investigating extent of Western Cape rabies ‘outbreak

Positive rabies cases were confirmed gradually between October last year and June this year.

The Western Cape government has confirmed that authorities are collecting samples from Cape Fur Seals to establish just how widespread a rabies outbreak in the province is.

Residents and travellers along the Western Cape coast have been warned to exercise caution when visiting the coastline after rabies was confirmed in the seals. Surfers, divers, water sports enthusiasts, and those in the fishing industry were urged to be extra cautious.

As health bodies investigate several cases of the disease, they have turned to samples from as far back as three years ago to understand its spread.

“Stored samples collected from seals since 2021 by Sea Search are currently being tested to determine the timeline and extent of the outbreak,” the government said in a statement this week.

Positive rabies cases confirmed

Positive rabies cases were confirmed gradually between October last year and June this year.

University of Pretoria researchers discovered rabies in seals from Fish Hoek in October 2023. While the Agricultural Research Council’s Onderstepoort Veterinary Research established more rabid seals during the same month in Melkbosstrand.

In January, the research council established more rabid seals in Plettenberg Bay. This was followed by another discovery from the UP team in February, in Pringle Bay.

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The UP researchers later found more rabid seals in Strand and Muizenberg.

The Cape of Good Hope Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) also reported a rabid seal in May. Unfortunately, the seal died on 22 May.

This month, the Onderstepoort Veterinary Research confirmed yet another case in Die Dam near Gansbaai.

Rabies symptoms

Rabies is a serious and usually deadly disease spread through contact with infected animals’ saliva. It can affect mammals, including humans.

Anyone can be exposed to the disease through bites, scratches, or licks to wounds or mucous membranes.

Symptoms include discomfort, fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting, progressing to neurological dysfunction, and coma. These can or may eventually all lead to a person or animal dying.

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According to the government, a rabies infection can quickly affect the brain. Signs of brain abnormality can be seen through changed behaviour, restlessness and confusion.

Immediate medical attention is critical if you suspect rabies exposure. If left untreated, symptoms may develop within one to three months or, in rare cases, after six months.

“People with rabies can also display hypersalivation, localised weakness and paralytic syndromes, which eventually progresses to coma and death.”

Treating rabies bites

If you have been bitten by a seal in the last six months, seek medical evaluation immediately.

Rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin are available at strategic public hospitals, emergency centres, travel clinics, and selected pharmacies.

Additionally, if you were bitten by any other animal, the Western Cape government advises you to “thoroughly” clean the wound with soap and water immediately.

One should wash the wound for approximately 10 minutes.

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Go to the hospital emergency centre for medical evaluation and start post-exposure treatment right away if exposed to rabies.

If the wound’s condition is severe, you may require rabies immunoglobulin, which is accessible at major hospitals, within the first week after the bite.

It is important to see through your vaccination treatment.

Rabies protection tips

  1. Keep pet and livestock vaccinations up to date.
  2. Avoid contact with wild, stray, or unknown animals.
  3. Keep pets away from unvaccinated animals or wild animal carcasses.
  4. Consider pre-exposure vaccination if travelling to areas where rabies is common, especially for children.
  5. Educate children about rabies risks and ensure caregivers understand the need for quick medical attention after a bite.

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