Rabies: Don’t let a bite end a life

Rabies is a vaccine-preventable viral disease which occurs in more than 150 countries and territories. Dogs are the main source of human rabies deaths, contributing up to 99% of all transmissions to humans.

Rabies infection causes tens of thousands of deaths every year, mainly in Asia and Africa. In fact, 40% of people bitten by suspect rabid animals are children under 15 years of age. This disease can be eliminated by vaccinating dogs. Not to mention, by preventing dog bites.

Rabies is endemic in South Africa. Between five and 30 human cases are confirmed annually, and, in this case, the majority of cases are transmitted by dogs. By and large, the number of cases correlate with the prevalence of rabies in domestic dogs in areas around the country. More than 70% of cases reported were children and teenagers.


Given the severity of the disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) have established a global “United Against Rabies” collaboration to provide a common strategy to achieve “Zero human rabies deaths by 2030”.

“One person dies of a rabies infection every 15 minutes,” says Dr Nasiha Soofie, Medical Head for Sanofi Pasteur Vaccines in South Africa. “The virus is shed in saliva. This means that the virus can be spread to humans through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. Therefore, we encourage all pet owners to vaccinate their pets in order to help prevent this horrific disease.”

How can we eliminate rabies deaths?

Soofie says that is essential to have your pets vaccinated. Additionally, seek immediate medical attention if someone is bitten.


“Immediate, effective wound washing, and treatment followed by the vaccine, is critical to prevent the progression of a the infection, onset of symptoms and death. Almost anyone can use the vaccine, including pregnant and lactating women. As well as children, the elderly and people who have a compromised immune system.”

Rabies in a neglected tropical disease. It predominantly affects poor and vulnerable populations who live in remote rural locations. In addition, treating exposure can be a catastrophic financial burden on affected families.

“Vaccinating dogs is the most cost-effective strategy for preventing infections in humans,” says Soofie. “That’s why it is vitally important to ensure your pets’  vaccinations are up to date. This is especially important if you are in an immediate outbreak area. Together, and with good vaccination practices, we can rid South Africa of this fatal disease and protect our communities, our loved ones and our pets.”


  1. World Health Organisation (WHO). https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/rabies
  2. Weyer , J & Blumberg, L. Management of rabies. National Institute for Communicable Diseases. S Afr Fam Pract.2019;61(3):63-66. SPZA.VACCI.19.09.0081

Have a look at some of our other articles on infections.

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