The first time I heard the word rabies, I was an 8-year-old naïve girl who thought that rabid dogs, were dogs released by the Tanzanian government into Kenya to “finish” Kenyans. My neighbour had an obese 5-month old puppy that we used to call “fatty”. 1 day he was attacked and bitten by a stray rabid dog. 6 days later, he became aggressive and ran away from home and we were told that he had rabies. Being the ignorant kids we were, we sought and ran after him with huge stones and stoned him to death.
It was until 12 years later after I joined veterinary school, that this incidence began to disturb my mind when I learnt what rabies was, and that “fatty” and many other “fatties” out in the world do not have come to an untimely aggressive death as rabies is preventable. So today we will speak about rabies and why rabies vaccination should be the number one priority for pet owners.
Rabies, popularly known as “kichaa ya mbwa” or “T9” in Kenya, is a lethal viral disease that affects the nervous system of infected animals. Rabies is commonly transmitted through a scratch (Wait! my cat scratches me all the time) or bite from an infected animal, with the dog being the major source of human rabies. It is rarely transmitted through contact of mucous membranes (gums and eyes) with contaminated body fluids such as saliva (My dog will never lick me again).
Rabies is a disease of public health importance because it affects animals as well as humans and causes death both to humans, wild and domestic animals. In Africa and Asia alone, rabies is estimated to cause over 59000 human deaths every year and these being predominantly among school going children. This may seem like a small number when compared to malaria which kills over 1 million people every year in Africa, however, the manner in which rabies manifests itself has accorded it its popularity in the scientific, health and veterinary world.
Symptoms of rabies can appear from a few days to even more than a year after the bite occurs.
In animals’ signs include pica, fever, seizures, paralysis, hydrophobia, dropped jaws, inability to swallow, change of tone of bark, incoordination, unusual shyness or aggressiveness, excessive irritability, changes in attitude and behaviour and excessive salivation (frothy saliva).
The first distinctive sign is usually a tingling sensation on the bite site. This may be accompanied by fever, headache, muscle ache, loss of appetite, nausea and fatigue all which resemble signs of common ailments like malaria.
As infection spreads, the individual may develop signs of irritability, confusion, aggressiveness, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, abnormal postures, muscle spasms, seizures, weakness or paralysis, increased salivation, extreme sensitivity to bright lights, touch or sound and difficulty speaking (Cases of affected children barking like dogs have been reported).
RABIES IS ALWAYS FATAL ONCE SYMPTOMS APPEAR, HOWEVER, FORTUNATELY HUMAN RABIES IS 100% PREVENTABLE THROUGH PROMPT MEDICAL CARE.
According to WHO, prevention of human rabies is dependent upon effective and verifiable control of the disease within the domestic dog population.
But what does this mean?
If your pet vaccinated or not, is bitten by a suspected rabid animal seek immediate help from your veterinarian, DO NOT STONE suspected rabid animals instead call animal control (KSPCA- Kenya or County Veterinary Services) to deal with the animal as these cases require further investigations for proper control measures to be put into practice.
If you, your child or any individual near you, is bitten by a suspected rabid animal, wash the bite site with a generous amount of water and soap and seek immediate medical attention as post-exposure and pre-exposure (for in-risk individuals) vaccines are available which can prevent the risk of contracting rabies.
Thinking back to the 8-year-old me and my neighbour, I realize that the reason why we are still talking about rabies is that we have limited information about rabies, most of which is based on myths. If my neighbour then, knew that rabies can be prevented through vaccination, perhaps “fatty” would not have met an untimely death.
Vaccination of owned dogs today in Kenya can stop the spread of rabies leading to a Kenya tomorrow that is free of rabies. Vaccinate your pet today and help Kenya realize its vision “Zero rabies by 2030”.
Rabies is a threat to wildlife population numbers such as the African wild dogs. It is therefore important to vaccinate our dogs to help protect the species which is vital to our ecosystem.
Featured image | Anthony Muwasu – Tony Wild