Increase in rabies cases a cause for concern

Johannesburg- According to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, the last few months has seen an increase in the number of human rabies cases.

Medical Scientist at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases Dr Jacqueline Weyer said this was particularly worrying as with a 99.9% fatality rate, rabies is one of the deadliest diseases on earth.

She said that as of today, November 9, 2021, there have been 14 confirmed human rabies cases in South Africa, (6 in the Eastern Cape, 4 in Kwa-Zulu Natal, 4 in Limpopo) and a further three probable cases in Kwa-Zulu.

“That’s a 100% increase compared to the seven cases reported in 2020,” she said.

Unlike most other vaccine-preventable diseases, rabies vaccines can be given for both pre- and post-exposure to rabies.

Weyer said the biggest misconception the public appears to have is that “Rabies is not my problem!”. Technical Lead for rabies in Sub-Saharan Africa for the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) Dr Andre Coetzer  said people don’t consider rabies something that happens in an urban or metropolitan setting.

“They falsely believe it’s only a problem in rural areas.” Dr Weyer says the situation in the Western Cape illustrated this perfectly: “Dog rabies has not been reported in the Western Cape for decades, but due to raging epidemics in other parts of the country, and low dog rabies vaccination coverage, the disease spilled over from the affected areas in the country to parts of the Western Cape. You just need one rabid dog to come into contact with an unvaccinated dog to set off a new outbreak.”

In South Africa dog-transmitted rabies is an ongoing problem, the use of post-exposure prophylaxis is vital in exposed human rabies cases. While the increase in the number of dog rabies cases has hit the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal hardest, to-date outbreaks have also been reported in Limpopo and Gauteng.

“The Eastern Cape dog rabies outbreak is disastrous and one of the largest dog rabies outbreaks we have seen in South Africa for decades,” said Dr Weyer.


Early symptoms may be very similar to those of the flu including general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache, as well as pain and tingling, pricking, or burning sensation at the wound site. If you’ve been bitten or scratched by a potentially rabid animal Dr Coetzer says it’s important to do the following:

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 15 minutes.
  • Apply a disinfectant to prevent secondary infection.
  • Seek urgent medical attention. You need to start post-exposure prophylaxis as soon as possible.

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