September 28 was World Rabies Day, so to create more awareness on it, today I will focus on this deadly disease.
Rabies is among deadly animal diseases that is shared with human beings. The disease is commonly transmitted from dogs (95 per cent of cases) to cows, sheep, goats, pig, rabbits and horses. Actually, the disease can be transmitted to virtually all warm blooded mammals through bites.
In livestock, clinical signs of rabies can be mistaken for other diseases with deadly consequences.
According to World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), rabies kills 60,000 people worldwide annually, yet it is a disease that can easily prevented through vaccination.
Due to the low awareness among risk populations about this disease, there is heightened global efforts to increase rabies vaccine coverage in dogs.
TYPES OF RABIES
Rabies is a viral disease that is commonly reported in dogs. It is spread through saliva of infected animals via bite wounds. When this saliva comes into contact with an open wound, it can still cause the disease even in the absence of a bite. Rabies affects nervous system and many of its clinical signs relate to mental abilities.
Two forms of the disease are documented namely— paralytic and furious forms. Most farms have dogs which are kept for security purposes; when this dogs are not vaccinated and allowed to roam around their chances of exposure to rabies are increased.
Paralytic form of rabies is clinically manifested by paralysis of chewing and swallowing muscles resulting in drooling and chocking. An animal affected with this form of disease will not swallow feeds and the farmer may attempt to inspect the mouth cavity to find out if there are objects stuck in there.
This is a risky behaviour among farmers when done with bare hands, as the farmer may be bitten.
Although bites from such animals are rare, the disease may still be transmitted if the hand has open wounds which can easily get contaminated with the animal’s saliva.
The furious form of rabies is the classical form that is common in dogs but can also be observed in other livestock species. This form of rabies results in aggression and infected animals easily attack others by biting, scratching or goring (attack with horns).
The aggression can result from unusually slight provocation such as noise and movements.
Dogs with furious rabies lose their sense of fear for people, bite at will. Housed dogs will bite and chew their cages.
Puppies suffering from this disease can be very be playful in one instance but turn vicious without any warning signs.
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Rabid dogs have excessive salivation, bark abnormally and docile dogs become aggressive while the ones usually aggressive become dull. In its terminal stages which don’t normally go past two weeks, the dog will have walking difficulties, will convulse, go into coma and die.
In cows, one of classical signs of rabies is abrupt and complete cessation of milk production in lactating cows (all farmers cannot miss this sign).
Clinical signs of rabies in cattle and goats include difficulties in swallowing, excessive salivation, fear of light, muzzle twitching and sexual excitement, vocalisation and weakness.
Animals infected with rabies will eventually die and euthanasia is recommended.
If you suspect, you have been bitten by a rabid animal, thoroughly wash the wound with plenty of water and soap and seek medical attention immediately.
In humans, the disease can be treated, but treatment must be done immediately. If you are at a higher risk of infection you can get vaccinated against rabies.
Rabies can be easily prevented through vaccination, if a 70 per cent coverage is achieved in dogs it can effectively break the cycle of disease transmission.
In Kenya, currently there are efforts to eradicate rabies through vaccination of dogs and creation of awareness on responsible dog ownership. There are misconceptions that vaccinated security dogs are less vicious but this is not true at all.
(The writer is a veterinary surgeon works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council)