Government goes all out to stop KZN rabies problem

Government animal health officials have stepped up efforts to bring the deadly rabies disease under control in KwaZulu-Natal.

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An eight-year old Bergville boy, Snethemba Hlongwane, recently died of suspected rabies and a young Underberg farmer is still fighting for his life in Pietermaritzburg after reportedly contracting the disease. The KZN Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs (KZN DAEA) has instituted a massive rabies vaccination campaign for pets in the Durban area, and is soon to begin a similar campaign in the province’s Midlands area where most rabies cases in pets and strays have been reported.

KZN DAEA spokesperson, Jeffrey Zikhali, said that so far, during 2012, 350 animals suspected of rabies infection had been put down and their carcasses tested for the disease. Of these, 107 tested positive for rabies. “We have on average only two human deaths a year from rabies,” Zikhali said.

The farmer, Graeme Anderson, who was hospitalised in May with suspected rabies, reportedly contracted the disease through the saliva of a stray dog that he picked up and cared for earlier this year. The dog died some weeks after Anderson rescued it and the young farmer became very ill soon after.

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News24 reported that he was the first person ever in South Africa to be treated for rabies using the Milwaukee protocol, devised in the US. This procedure involves putting a rabies patient into a drug-induced coma and then giving the person anti-viral drugs to fight the infection.

Dr Ariena Shepherd, a veterinarian and also KZN RPO and KZN NWGA committee member, expressed shock at the extent of the rabies incidents in the Midlands and northern areas of the province. “This is not a Mickey Mouse disease. It is very serious. There are no second chances if you are bitten by a rabid animal and don’t get treatment,” Shepherd said. “But I’m concerned that government doesn’t seem to be taking this epidemic serious enough.”