Rabies in South Africa

11 January 2022

Article: 56/103

Public health authorities in South Africa have updated the total number of rabies cases in the country in 2021, with 19 confirmed cases as of 14 December 2021, nine in Eastern Cape, six in KwaZuluNatal and four in Limpopo provinces. In addition, four probable rabies cases were reported, three from KwaZulu-Natal and one in Eastern Cape provinces. Some of these cases have been linked to outbreaks of dog rabies in the affected provinces.

Rabies is a fatal but preventable disease of the central nervous system caused by the rabies virus. People are infected when saliva from an infected mammal comes into direct contact with broken skin or mucous membranes (eyes, nose or mouth), usually from a bite, scratch or lick. Rabies is invariably fatal once symptoms develop. Only a small number of people with the disease are known to have survived.

Advice for travellers

All travellers to rabies endemic areas should be aware of the risk of rabies and advised to avoid contact with wild and domestic animals, particularly dogs and cats.

Children are more vulnerable to rabies than adults, as they are less likely to understand the risk of interacting with animals, less able to defend themselves from an animal attack and may not report a potential exposure.

All travellers to endemic areas should be aware of immediate wound care and advised to seek medical attention immediately following potential exposure. Effective rabies vaccines, which can be used pre- and post-exposure, are available and prevent clinical rabies from developing. 

Further information is available from the TRAVAX rabies and rabies post-exposure guidance pages.

Source: TRAVAX, 6 January 2022