Frequently Asked Questions about Rabies

Aggressive Cat with RabiesHow often must I vaccinate my dog?
Puppies should be vaccinated at 3 months old with a booster vaccination required a month later and a booster given within 12 months of original vaccination. Thereafter animals who live in Rabies endemic areas like KwaZulu Natal should be given a rabies vaccination every year and animals living in non-Rabies endemic areas every 3 years by law,  but preferably also yearly, because in places like Johannesburg which is non-Rabies endemic there have been several outbreaks of Rabies in the past few years.

My child was bitten by a mouse (shrew, rat or monkey). Must he or she receive anti-rabies treatment?
If bitten by shrew or rat then contracting rabies is not likely, however, seek medical attention to treat bite wound as they can become infected. If bitten by a monkey, depending on the behaviour of the animal, anti-rabies treatment may be indicated, seek medical attention.

Must I have my cat vaccinated against rabies?
Yes. Rabies vaccination is required by law every 3 years, however preferably should be done annually.

I have been bitten by a dog. The dog is very aggressive and frequently bites people. What must I do?
Treat the wound immediately by flushing the wound for 5 – 10 minutes. Seek medical attention immediately where the doctor will determine whether vaccination and RIG therapy is required. Whereabouts and description of the aggressive dog should be reported to the authorities as a dog has bitten many people and is a risk to the population.  

I was bitten by a rabid dog four days ago and I was given rabies vaccine within a day of the incident but no RIG was administered. What must I do now?
RIG therapy is required. It can be given up to 7 days after the 1st vaccination. A person that has received RIG therapy should be observed afterwards for an hour for any harmful side effects

My farm staff dug up the carcass of a rabies-positive cow that had been buried a day ago. The staff then consumed the meat of this carcass. What must be done now?
Seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY. The farm staff will probably require vaccinations and RIG therapy. Destroy the remaining meat from the rabies positive cow by either burning or burying.

We have been drinking the milk of a rabid cow up to the day she was destroyed. What should be done?
Seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY.  Vaccination and RIG will post probably be indicated. Bury the remaining milk from the rabies positive cow.

What is the earliest age that I may vaccinate my puppy or kitten of rabies?
3 months

Is it safe to give rabies vaccine at the same time as other dog vaccines, e.g. distemper, parvo and hepatitis?

What side-effects will rabies vaccination have on my animal?
Animals may vomit,  have facial swelling, fever or lethargy. In rare instances, animals may experience anaphylactic shock, paralysis or death. However, the side effects of the rabies vaccine rarely occur and should not prevent you from getting your animals vaccinated regularly.

One of my dogs is positive for rabies. What should I do about my other animals?
It depends on your remaining dogs’ vaccination history. If your dogs have had no vaccinations then they will be humanely destroyed. If they have had rabies vaccinations by a registered veterinarian or authorised official and you have proof of these vaccinations, then the dogs will receive a rabies vaccination booster on day 0 and day 3, the dogs will be placed in quarantine for 6 months, and if there is no change in behaviour, then the dogs can be released from quarantine.

How soon after vaccination are my dogs protected against rabies?
7 – 10 days

Should wild animals which are kept as pets be vaccinated against rabies?
Wild animals should be vaccinated against rabies however the immune response would be unknown as current rabies vaccine is tested for domestic animals.

My cow was positive for rabies. What must I do about this cow’s calf and the other cattle that were in contact with this cow?
Contact your state veterinarian. He/she will decide if humane slaughter or isolation and vaccination is necessary.

My dog and cat were vaccinated during a rabies campaign. However, I do not have any documentary proof that vaccination was done. Should there be contact with rabid animals, what is their vaccination status?
Your dogs’ and cats’ vaccination history is considered unknown and would, therefore, be considered not up to date. Blood can be taken and a rabies titre determined. If greater then 0.5iu/ml then this indicates that the animal has adequate protection against rabies, and should be kept isolated from other animals for 6 months, if there is no change in behaviour then the animal can be released.  If the titre is less then 0.5iu/ml, contact your State Veterinarian to find out the next step as there was the only contact between your pets and a rabid animal and no report of a bite. The next step could be quarantine or humane destruction.  Getting and keeping a formal record of Rabies vaccination is critically important and as it is governed by law it is like driving without a driver’s licence.

Can rabies be transmitted between people?
Yes but only if a rabid human bites another person or receives an organ/blood transfusion from a rabid human.

I was bitten by a mongoose two weeks ago. What should I do?
Seek medical attention immediately even 2 weeks after the bite. Wound treatment, vaccination and RIG therapy can be started.

Can birds contract rabies?

What part do bats play in rabies transmission in South Africa?
The risk of rabies transmission is highest in bats that feed on blood. Vampire bats are not found in South Africa. It is unlikely that a bat that usually feeds on fruit, insects or pollen would contract rabies. However, bats are mammals and can, therefore, contract Rabies and an accidental scratch or bite from infected bats could potentially cause rabies in a person.  Rabid animals lose their fear of humans and as unsolicited aggression is a known symptom of Rabies, it should always be considered a possibility if a human is bitten by a bat.

Can clinical rabies in humans be treated?
The treatment for clinical rabies involves sedation, pain management, and the maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance. There is no cure for clinical rabies in humans and in most cases the disease is fatal. Family members should be informed of the poor prognosis and receive the necessary counselling and support that they need.

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