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Rabies (Human) in South Africa

25 Nov 2014

A suspected human case of rabies infection was reported in October 2014. The case was a 52-year-old man from Limpopo province who sustained category 3 wounds to his legs and hands after being bitten by a neighbour’s dogs. The man received treatment and a first dose of rabies vaccine at a nearby clinic. He was referred to a clinic nearer home for completion of post-exposure prophylaxis.

The man was admitted to Hospital on 25 October 2014 (about a month after the exposure), with symptoms of rabies infection; he died the following day. A preliminary diagnosis of rabies was based on clinical presentation.

A total of five laboratory-confirmed human cases of rabies has been reported in South Africa for 2014, to date. A further five probable cases were also identified. All the cases resulted from dog bites and occurred in Limpopo (3), Eastern Cape (3), Mpumalanga (2) and North West (1) provinces.

Certain areas of South Africa are of particular concern regarding animal rabies. Limpopo Province, reported re-emergence of rabies in 2006, and human cases have been reported annually since. The Eastern Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga provinces report a resurgence of animal rabies in certain districts in recent years, although few human cases. In the past, KwaZulu-Natal was considered the province with the highest incidence of canine rabies, and human rabies, however, following canine vaccination programmes since 2009, canine rabies is declining and no human cases have been reported in the past 15 months.

Advice for Travellers

Travellers to South Africa should be made aware of the rabies risk and be advised to avoid all contact with animals and dogs in particular. All animal bites should be reported and assessed carefully. Rabies pre-exposure vaccine is available for those considered to be at risk.