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Rabies 99% fatal, 100% vaccine-preventable

2021-09-30  Paheja Siririka

Rabies 99% fatal, 100% vaccine-preventable
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Namibia has recorded one human death in the last year due to rabies – and although the virus has no effective treatment once the symptoms appear, it can be prevented if a proper medical treatment (post-exposure prophylaxis) is given immediately after exposure to the bite.

World Rabies Day, 28 September, was created to raise awareness and advocate for rabies elimination globally and is designed to unite all people, organisations and stakeholders against rabies. The Namibian government embarked on a mass dog vaccination campaign every year, an awareness programme on radio and television, and a hospital that provides rabies vaccine injections to animal bite victims, among others.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) through the Directorate of Veterinary Services (DVS) has developed a rabies control strategy in collaboration with the Ministry of Health And Social Services and the Veterinary Association of Namibia.

State veterinarian Nehemia Hedimbi said in 2015, Namibia launched its National Rabies Control Strategy after realising the incidence of rabies in both humans and animals was on the increase – and yet, the tools for dealing with it were available. “The implementation of the strategy has the ultimate goal of ending human deaths from dog-mediated rabies by 2030 with the implementation happening in all fourteen regions through four phases,” stated Hedimbi. He told Vital Signs phase two of the programme, which was implemented for three years, started in February 2019 and is expected to end in January 2022. 

“The project aims to improve the capacity of the Namibian Veterinary Services to control dog-mediated rabies in the Northern Communal Area (NCA), where most human rabies deaths occur,” he detailed.

 Hedimbi said: “This will be achieved through mass dog vaccination campaigns, awareness campaigns, the improvement of rabies surveillance as well as through inter-sector coordination and transboundary harmonisation of rabies control activities. The project targets the population of the NCA and especially children, who are most affected by the disease”. There are warning signs people can observe to determine whether or not a dog has rabies. That includes the animal sowing aggressive behaviour; biting people and other animals; excessive salivation; biting unusual things like stone and sticks; abnormal barking; abnormal sound paralysis; coma, and death, among others. The International Association of Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) states that in Namibia, the infection primarily circulates among domestic, feral and wild animals such as dogs, cats, monkeys, foxes, bats, raccoons and skunks – although all mammals are at risk. The virus attacks the central nervous system, targeting the brain and the spinal cord. The majority of human infections occur in Asia and Africa. Rabies is also an occupational hazard for veterinarians and wildlife researchers.  Children are especially vulnerable, since they may not report scratches or bites. They should be cautioned not to pet dogs, cats, monkeys or other mammals.

A series of three pre-exposure rabies vaccination shots is advised for persons planning an extended stay or on work assignments in remote and rural areas, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. 

The pre-exposure series simplifies medical care if the person has been bitten by a rabid animal and gives enough time to travel from a remote area to seek medical attention. 

IAMAT stated that although this provides adequate initial protection, one requires two additional post-exposure doses if exposure to the virus was detected.  The preferred vaccines for rabies pre-exposure vaccination and post-exposure therapy are HDCV (Human Diploid Cell Rabies Vaccine) and PCECV (Purified Chick Embryo Cell Vaccine). 

These two vaccines are interchangeable.

2021-09-30  Paheja Siririka

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