Rabies is a deadly neglected vaccine-preventable zoonotic disease affecting developing countries of Africa and Asia.

The domestic dog accounts for the transmission of over 99% of all human rabies cases.

Approximately 40% of children below 15 years bear the brunt of rabies causing emotional and psychological burden on families.

Upon the appearance of signs and symptoms of rabies, death is inevitable.

Following the Global Rabies Conference in Geneva,  a United Against Rabies collaboration (UAR) was set up to end rabies by 2030.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), World Health Organization (WHO) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) were involved in this agreement.

The Pan-African Rabies Control Network (PARACON) and Rabies in West Africa (RIWA) spearhead the fight against rabies within the subregion. However, Ghana has not achieved much in the control of rabies as more human and animal cases are recorded in our medical and veterinary health facilities with occasional reports in the media.

This article seeks to create public awareness on rabies how to stay safe.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF RABIES

Rabies virus is transmitted through bites or scratches of infected animal. To a lesser extent, one could also be infected via contamination of open wounds or mucous membranes in the mouth, nose and eyes with saliva or brain tissue of infected animal.

Consumption of infected dog meat and organ transplant are potential sources of infection, though rare.

Signs of rabies are exhibited in two forms namely aggressive and paralytic (also called dump form). In the aggressive form the infected animal shows a sudden change in behaviour, increased aggression, anxiety and indiscriminate biting of any object, whereas in the dump form,  the infected animal shows increasing paralysis involving the limbs and jaw, inability to swallow, excessive salivation.

Infected dog dies within a period of 10 days after the onset of clinical signs. It is therefore necessary to seek veterinary advice when you observe any of these unusual signs in your pets.

In humans, there may be discomfort, pickling or itching sensation at the site of bite, cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion and agitation. Later signs are delirium, abnormal behaviour, hydrophobia (fear of water), insomnia and death.

PREVENTION AND CONTROL

According to the WHO, 21500 human rabies deaths are reported every year in Africa, and this calls for urgent attention for control and elimination strategies.

Mass vaccination of pets against the disease is the surest way of controlling dog-mediated human rabies. First vaccination of pets is scheduled at 3 months old, however during mass vaccinations, it is recommended to cover younger ones.

Revaccination (Booster vaccination) must be done on a yearly basis backed by issuance of vaccination certificate as evidence of vaccination.

One must ensure that dogs are kept on leash and properly supervised during walks. Neutering your pet may also assist in controlling its aggressiveness towards people and decrease indiscriminate procreation. Pet owners are encouraged to train their dogs to limit behaviours such as unprovoked biting.

Furthermore, responsible dog ownership where an owner provides shelter, feeds and cares for the pet is paramount to reducing straying. Metropolitan, Municipal and District assemblies should create shelter facilities to keep stray animals, especially dogs.

This should be effected in consultation with their respective veterinary officers. Media houses should have slots available for public education on relevant disease topics such as rabies to help its eradication.

WHAT TO DO IN AN EVENT OF A PET BITE OR SCRATCH

  1. Quickly wash the site with soap and running water for at least fifteen minutes
  2. Report to the nearest medical center
  3. After the necessary treatment and advice, report to the nearest veterinary office
  4. Investigations surrounding the bite or scratch incident will be made and in cases where the animal is known, it will be quarantined for the stipulated number of days for observation and testing
  5. During or after this period, the veterinary officer will notify you and the medical officer in charge of your case about the rabies status of animal at the time of bite. This will inform the treatment strategy by the medical officer and the subsequent measures to be taken by the veterinary officer

Always remember to report any dog bite case to the medical and veterinary officer even if the dog is your own or you think it was accidental. It is safer to act immediately than to wait.

Do not provoke pets with stones or whips as this behaviour puts you at risk of attack.

Once the clinical signs of rabies start showing, death is inevitable therefore vaccinate your pet, report suspected cases and seek medical treatment and help save a life.

Authors: Drs. William Tasiame, Yesutor Soku, Ekua Esoun Thompson,Victor Frimpong and Benjamin Kissi Sasu

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