Today an acquaintance's wife was rushed to hospital in South Africa with suspected RABIES! This made me rush off to my vet friend to discover more details about a truly terrifying disease that is rampant in Zambia and about which I discovered, I had insufficient knowledge. I've lived in Africa for most of my life and have been aware of rabies in animals but NEVER before had first hand knowledge of someone who may well be infected with the most horrible and untreatable ailment I have heard of!
The law in Zambia states that ALL dogs must be vaccinated against rabies annually. It doesn't enforce the vaccinating of other domestic animals like cats and horses, but most of us, being aware that ANY warm blooded animal can catch rabies and, hopefully being responsible owners, would vaccinate all our pets as a matter of course.
Firstly I discovered that the incubation period for rabies is 10 days, during which the animal shows no symptoms at all but is still highly infective! During this 10 day period you or a member of your family can be infected by something as simple as your dog licking you in a place where you might have even the tiniest open wound. IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BITE YOU! Bear in mind that at this stage the animal is showing no signs of being ill in any way whatsoever! The rabies virus is ONLY passed through saliva. It lodges itself in the soft tissue around the wound and from here spreads into the nervous system and from there to the brain. By the time it gets into the nervous system, it is too late for the 'after bite' antidote to work, the disease will progress to its natural conclusion - DEATH - and there is no treatment available that can stop this!
Most humans would only rush off to the doctor for treatment if they had actually been bitten by an animal either showing signs of the disease or by one that had not had its annual vaccinations. As can be seen from the above, this may well be too late!
Does it not make sense then to VACCINATE your animals against this dread disease if only in the interest of protecting your family? Sadly it seems that some people work on the principle that it 'can't happen to me' and don't bother. Although it is a legal requirement here in Zambia and is available at a ridiculously low price (almost free in fact!), there are STILL some idiots who don't do it! Not because they can't afford it and not because they don't know about the existence of rabies but just because they can't be bothered and unless their dog actually bites someone, the law is unlikely to catch them!
It would seem that this is what has happened to this woman - by the time her dog was showing signs of possible rabies and proceeded to bite her, it is most likely that a good 15 days had passed from initial infection to bite. Although she went to the doctor and was given the 'after bite' treatment, it looks like it was already too late. From her symptoms, it seems most likely that she has developed the first stages of full blown rabies and can probably be expected to die a truly horrific death anywhere in the next three to seven days. There are no blood tests or brain scans that can show signs of rabies - the only way to absolutely diagnose the disease is after death when the brain has to be dissected and lesions are found! There is NO other way!
And all this could have been avoided by the initial vaccination of her dog - a 1ml injection at a cost of maybe 25c. Knowing how rampant rabies is in this country, how could ANYONE neglect to properly vaccinate their animals? How could anyone be so incredibly STUPID!!!
No coffee for me tonight - I think I need a stiff brandy!