Two young children die in KZN after contracting rabies in separate incidents

Rabies is fatal and untreatable, but can be prevented by vaccinating one’s animals, most notably domestic dogs and cats. Photo for illustration: iStock

This year alone, three cases of human rabies have been reported in KwaZulu-Natal, three in the Eastern Cape, and one in Limpopo. 

Two children, both from KwaZulu-Natal, died in August after contracting rabies in two separate incidents. 

This brings the total number of human rabies cases in South Africa this year to seven. 

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the first case involved a two-year-old child from Umlazi in Durban, who had been bitten in the face by a neighbour’s dog two or three months before showing symptoms. 

The child was admitted to hospital with muscle fatigue, hyper-salivation and paralysis in August, and tested positive for human rabies after saliva samples were collected. 

At the time of being bitten, the child did not receive post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), the NICD explained. PEP can prevent humans from being infected by rabies after being exposed to it. 

In this case, the NICD said the dog was killed, “but not investigated for rabies.” 

In the second case, a four-year-old child was also reportedly attacked by a dog, in Marianhill, eThekwini, in April. 

After the attack, the child was taken to a healthcare facility, but no reports for the provision of PEP was available, the NICD said. 

The dog was vaccinated for rabies in 2019, leading the NICD to believe that “either the evidence is incorrect or the child acquired rabies from a different source.”

In August, the child began to exhibit symptoms, including vomiting, weak appetite, headache and dysphagia, and died shortly after being admitted to hospital, on 25 August. 

Post-mortem results from brain and skin samples confirmed that the child also died of rabies. 

This year alone, three cases of human rabies have been reported in KwaZulu-Natal, three in the Eastern Cape, and one in Limpopo. 

“Probable cases are those that presented with a clinical history and outcome, and epidemiological history compatible with a diagnosis of rabies, but laboratory confirmation was not possible,” the institute explained. 

Rabies is fatal and untreatable, but can be prevented by vaccinating one’s animals, especially domestic dogs and cats. 

If one is exposed to rabies, the wound must be thoroughly washed and treated, a rabies vaccination administered, and in cases where the exposure involved the breach of skin and contact with mucous membranes, rabies immunoglobulin must be administered. 

PEP is a “lifesaving emergency medicine,” the institute added. 

The NICD said domestic dogs are linked to the majority of human rabies cases in South Africa. 

(Compiled by Nica Richards)

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