NOTE: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that two dogs tested by the Makhanda state vet both had rabies. Only the one dog, killed by lions at Amakhala, tested positive for rabies. Grocott’s Mail regrets the error.
By CAITLYN HILLIARD-LOMAS
The first case of canine rabies for several years has been confirmed in the Makana district.
On 1 October, a field guide from Amakhala Private Game Reserve, 50km outside Makhanda, spotted a stray dog wandering near the public gravel road between Amakhala game reserve and the Conservation Department. Amakhala staff are unsure where the dog came from.
The Conservation Department arrived about 30 minutes after the stray dog had been reported. The dog had already been killed by a pride of lions. The reserve thought it was essential to have the dog’s body sent to the laboratory to get tested for rabies.
When tests came back positive, the State Vet instructed Amakhala staff to isolate the lions in a boma. At this time the lions were also vaccinated against the disease. The vet did blood tests on the lions to determine whether they had been previously vaccinated. They are still awaiting results.
The lions are under daily observation in the boma. So far, there has been no report of unusual behaviour. However, according to Amakhala Game Reserve Chairman, Giles Gush, it can take up to six months or longer to show symptoms of rabies in wild animals and is reportedly “always fatal.”
On 4 October, a different dog from an outlying area showed suspicious symptoms and was brought to the Makana Vet Clinic. Since the only method of diagnosing a dog with rabies is post mortem, the dog was put down as a precaution. The rabies tests by the state vets returned negative, according to a Makana Vet Clinic Facebook post.
In total, more than 150 dog rabies cases have been confirmed in the Eastern Cape this year, with at least 70 of those cases from Nelson Mandela Bay. Three people, including a nine-year-old Motherwell boy, and two people from Buffalo City, have died since July.
In response, local veterinarians at Grahamstown Veterinary Clinic, Ikhala, Cole Veterinary Clinic and Makana Vet Clinic have administered hundreds of rabies vaccines to dogs and cats within Makhanda.
Makhanda’s state veterinary services are usually responsible for providing free rabies vaccinations to dogs living in targeted areas of the community. However, due to the significant rabies outbreak in Gqeberha, the state vet has been assisting the Eastern Cape government with vaccinations in the Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros. For this reason, the state had not been able to administer any vaccinations in Makhanda during 2021.
Dr Amy Jackson-Moss of the Makana Vet Clinic said the disease was “totally preventable through vaccination”.
“We must be proactive in doing the work now to prevent a devastating outbreak which is at the moment very possible considering just how close to home this disease now is,” she added.
The cost of one vaccine is R10. The needles and syringes are about R5, so it costs R15 to administer a Rabies vaccine. Rabies is 100% preventable through vaccination.
Dogs’ physical symptoms of rabies include fever, aggression, extreme drooling, seizures, difficulty swallowing, and even paralysis.
Vaccination of domestic dogs is critical for the control of rabies in all species.
Every year nearly 60,000 people globally die of rabies, a deadly virus most commonly transmitted to humans by animal bites. Over 99% of these deaths are due to bites from domestic dogs. Rabies is invariably fatal once symptoms develop, so a person must get treatment when exposed.
Treatment consists of a course of vaccinations known as post-exposure prophylaxis. These are highly effective at preventing rabies when promptly administered. But sometimes, people do not seek treatment because they are unaware of the risk of rabies. Even when they know that treatment is urgent, some may still struggle to access it due to its high cost and often limited availability.
According to Dr Katie Hayes, Prof Sarah Hampton, and Kennedy Lushasi of the University of Glasgow, we should not be relying solely on post-exposure prophylaxis.
The alternative strategy is the vaccination of domestic dogs, which is a successful and cost-effective way of preventing human rabies. But it is sadly still not routinely undertaken in the countries worst affected by rabies.
Concerns are often expressed that rabies may be independently maintained in wildlife like jackals and bat-eared foxes in wildlife-rich areas like ours, therefore rendering the vaccination of domestic dogs ineffective.
However, writing in The Conversation Africa the Glasgow researchers found that domestic dogs are the only species necessary to maintain rabies across most of Africa.
This means that dog vaccination should control the disease in all species.