Something rabid this way comes

Rabies virus: also known more officially as

The relevant ICTVdB (Intl Comm on Taxonomy of Viruses Database) page describes the viruses as follows:

Rabies virus virion


Virions consist of an envelope and a nucleocapsid. Virus capsid is enveloped. Virions are bullet-shaped. Virions measure 45-100 nm in diameter; 100-430 nm in length. Surface projections are densely dispersed, distinctive spikes that cover the whole surface except for the quasi-planar end. Capsid/nucleocapsid is elongated with helical symmetry.

Nucleic Acid

The Mr of the genome constitutes 1-2% of the virion by weight. The genome is not segmented and contains a single molecule of linear, negative-sense, single-stranded RNA. The complete genome is 11900 nucleotides long, is fully sequenced.

A description of the replication of these viruses is given here.

There has been a fair bit of media fuss here in South Africa recently – and in Gauteng in particular – about a rabies outbreak, and the need to get pets and possibly dependants vaccinated against the virus.

The urgency of this campaign was underlined by the recently reported death of a child, scratched by a rabid puppy.

The literature available locally to inform prevention is a bit dated – 1997 – but it is comprehensive and well-researched.  This is a PDF document available here; more recent material can be found at the CDC site.

Important points to note about rabies are the following:

  • If untreated, it is effectively 100% fatal in both susceptible animals and in humans
  • There are effective vaccines for the prevention of infection – veterinarians and staff working with animals are routinely vaccinated – and
  • There is an effective therapy for people already bitten, which involves the injection of anti-rabies antibodies

News currently coming out of Gauteng Province reported in Business Day indicates that this outbreak is the first in that province in many years, and that over R30 million (~US$4 million) will be required to stamp it out – with the requirement that >70% of Gauteng’s estimated 1,4-million cats and dogs be vaccinated, otherwise the disease could become endemic.

While the disease has been known for centuries, and vaccines and therapy date back to the time of Louis Pasteur, it is alarming to realise that, in the words of the CDC Rabies Homepage,

“…Rabies in humans is 100% preventable through prompt appropriate medical care. Yet, more than 55,000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, die from rabies every year – a rate of one person every ten minutes.”

A horrific disease to die of, and relatively easily preventable.  We just need more and cheaper vaccines and therapy.  Roll on the plants…!

Oh, and simple common sense, and widespread compliance….


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