By Niyi Atanda and Kikiope Oluwarore (DVM)
Today September 28, 2017, is set aside to commemorate World Rabies Day!
It is an opportunity for health professionals and stakeholders across the world to spread community awareness about the deadly disease, inform people about methods of prevention and control, encourage vaccination of pets and when available, provide free vaccination for susceptible animals and pets in the community. We have also previously discussed Rabies here but we bring new and highly important information to you even as today happens to be World Rabies Day.
Rabies is a zoonotic viral disease that affects all warm-blooded animals and is responsible for the death of over 55,000 people annually. (Zoonitic means that the disease can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa). It should be noted that the disease is highly under-reported because it is a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) and there are estimations that the number of deaths are actually much higher than 55,000. It is transmitted to humans majorly through bites from dogs (and other animals) infected with the rabies virus. These dogs are commonly known as rabid dogs. In Nigeria, rabies is one of the most important zoonotic diseases with different names accorded to it as it relates to different ethnic group. Yoruba tribe refers to it as Digbo-lugi, the Igbos refer to it as Ara-nkita, it is giwon kare in Hausa while the Fulani refers to Rabies as ginnaji. It is imperative to note that all these languages refer to the mad-dog syndrome that has being tagged to rabid dogs.
A rabid dog – Mad Dog syndrome
The disease is caused by Rhabdoviruses of the genus Lyssavirus that belongs to the family Rhabdoviridae and all warm-blooded animals can be susceptible to it at varying degrees. However, dogs, bats and cats are generally more susceptible than others. Humans are particularly at risk when they live in the same environment where rabid dogs run rampage without control – which is a common occurrence in most marginalized, poverty-stricken, under-deserved communities. In Nigeria, this is the situation that makes it of great concern as there is lack of enforcement of leash laws for dogs in both urban and rural communities.
Transmission of Rabies to Humans
The rabies virus is present in the saliva and when a rabid animal bites or scratches (dog, bats) a human being, the virus begins to replicate within the body system and then clinically manifest after some weeks with its symptoms. The virus replication occurs at the muscle or connective tissue, enters the peripheral nervous system and eventually spreads to the central nervous system. The virus then multiplies greatly at the salivary glands in the mouth which is the major reason for the dominance of the virus in the saliva. Other theoretical means of rabies transmission may include human to human transmission through bites, consumption of raw meat, inhalation of infected aerosols or infected organ transplants.
Signs of Rabies in Humans and Animals
The clinical signs of rabies are similar in both humans and animals starting with non-specific symptoms such as fever, headache, anxiety and a tingling sensation at the infection site. It then progresses to either of two forms – Furious rabies and Paralytic rabies. The furious rabies is exhibited by hyperactivity behavior, convulsion, extra-salivation, hydrophobia (fear of water) and sometimes aerophobia (fear of fresh air). The paralytic rabies is responsible for about 30% of all cases and its less dramatic compared to the furious form as it exhibits muscular paralysis at the site of the bite or the scratch.
Watch this video of a Nigerian Man showing end-stage clinical signs of rabies infection. He didn’t receive post-exposure prophylaxis immediately after being bitten by a dog leading to this degeneration. He was not expected to live after this. If you or anyone has been bitten or scratched by a dog, cat, bat or opposum that is suspected to have rabies (or any animal bite at all), contact your medical doctor and veterinarian respectively IMMEDIATELY!
How to protect and treat yourself and your animals from Rabies
The only guaranteed way to protect yourself, friends, family, and neighborhood from rabies is to vaccinate of all pets and domestic animals and staying away from wild animals.
If you (or someone close to you) has been bitten by any animal (dog especially), immediately wash the wound well with soap and flowing water and go to the hospital to receive for post exposure prophylaxis treatment. If this treatment is not received immediately after bite or scratch in about 14 days, it will become too late as the virus will have become well advanced in the person’s body, generating clinical signs. And once clinical signs (as mentioned earlier) sets in, death is imminent.
As the infected human is being treated, you should also contact a veterinarian to help capture the animal (and other animals in the environment) and examine them for rabies. It is imperative to know that your pets can contract rabies once bitten by a rabid animal. Pets have the higher risk of contracting rabies because of their exposure to other animals (both domestic and wild animals) which is grave for man because of the close relationship between man and their pets. All dogs, pets and animals suspected or confirmed to have rabies should be quarantined for 6 months or euthanized immediately.
In other to reduce the risk of rabies with regards to your pet, the following are necessary,
- Keep pets such as cats indoor while also putting on close surveillance, dogs whenever there are outdoor activities.
- Get rid of stray dogs in your neighborhood.
- Maintain a regular visit to your veterinarian for up to date examination and vaccination of your animals and pets.
- Maintaining a hygienic environment by properly getting rid of garbage which could attract wild animals.
To end the scourge, Rabies in our environment, vaccinate yourself and pets against rabies, and report ALL suspected cases in animals and humans to your local veterinarian and medical doctor respectively.
Also, join us on Pinnacle Health Radio (www.pinnaclehealthradio.org) by 11:00am as we continue the extensive discussion on Rabies.