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12 December 2013 Published in News Written by 

Rabies fatal once symptoms appear Featured

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One morning, Emma Laudon asked her son, Joseph, why he did not want go to school that day. He told her he had a bad headache and could not drink water or eat food. Later, he began to vomit and foam at the mouth.


A visit to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, revealed Joseph had rabies. He was exhibiting signs of hydrophobia or fear of water – an advanced symptom of the disease. Because of hydrophobia, saliva was accumulating in his mouth and he was unable to swallow. Once a person is symptomatic for rabies, treatment is ineffective.

All the family could do was wait for Joseph to die. “As soon as you see the first symptoms of rabies, even the very first – a tingling in the hands or a child becomes slightly disoriented – death is inevitable,” says Dr Neil Kennedy, Dean of Medicine at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.

Not long after the diagnosis, Joseph died. His family was devastated. “I still think of the way my child died,” says Emma. “It always gives fear in my heart. Even if I see a dog, I am always afraid.” Need for dog vaccination In Malawi, nearly 500 people die each year due to rabies. Of the more than 400 000 dogs in the country, only 0.5% are vaccinated against rabies annually.1 A vaccination coverage of 70% of dogs is necessary to protect the more than 16.4 million people in Malawi from dog-mediated rabies.

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