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Compiled by Lineo Lesemane

Digital Lifestyle Journalist

Cape Town seal rabies case raises health concerns for humans

What you should know about animal bites

A recent case in Cape Town where a Cape fur seal tested positive for rabies, has heightened concerns about the rabies risk.

While dogs are the most common transmitters of rabies to humans, other animals like livestock, cats, mongooses, and bats can also carry the disease.

Dr Pete Vincent from Netcare Medicross Tokai highlights that although most rabies cases are seen in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, North West, and Limpopo, the Cape Town incident shows the importance of getting any animal bite checked by a doctor.

“Previously, seal bites have been considered low risk for rabies; however, recent developments indicate the urgent need for post-exposure prophylaxis and antibiotics, as advised by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases [NICD],” he said.

Dr. Vincent emphasizes the need for immediate rabies vaccination after exposure, which involves several injections over a month.

“If treatment commences as soon as possible, and the full course is correctly administered, humans exposed to rabies will almost certainly not develop the disease.

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“This is the only chance of preventing the progression of the virus, as once a person develops clinical signs of rabies, there is no cure, and the condition is invariably fatal.”

All domesticated animals can be a rabies risk

Mande Toubkin, Netcare’s General Manager for Emergency, Trauma, Transplant, and Corporate Social Investment, said any domesticated animal without current vaccinations can be a rabies risk.

“Teach adults and children not to approach animals they do not know, and not to provoke any animal. It is especially important not to feed wildlife or approach animals that are wild, and be sure to have your dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals vaccinated yearly for rabies, as required,” she added.

What to do if exposed to rabies

Rabies spreads through the saliva of infected animals, usually through bites or when saliva gets into open wounds or the eyes, nose, or mouth.

Toubkin stresses the importance of immediate medical care for any animal bite, no matter how small.

“Rabies treatment should start as soon as possible. Don’t delay in getting medical help, even if the wound isn’t bleeding much. Rabid animals might act strangely and are more likely to bite.”

If exposed, you should:

  1. Wash the area with soap and water for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Seek immediate medical care.
  3. Start post-exposure treatment right away if there’s a risk of rabies.
  4. Depending on the wound, you might need rabies immunoglobulin, available at major hospitals within the first week after the bite.
  5. Keep track of your vaccination schedule and complete the treatment as instructed.

How to protect your family against rabies

  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.

In addition, Netcare’s National Trauma Injury Prevention Programme (NTIPP) is working with the Global Alliance on Rabies Control (GARC) to offer a booklet on animal safety, available for free in isiZulu, isiXhosa, Afrikaans, Shona, and English.

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