Red-blooded attack on the scourge of rabies

The statistics confirm this, with more than 55 000 people dying of rabies every year, mostly in Asia and Africa. Some 40% of humans who are bitten by suspected rabid animals are children under the age of 15.

The disease, which is preventable but is 100% fatal once symptoms emerge, again highlights the importance of blood supplies. Because of its severity, vaccines and treatment need to be widely and continually available, especially for those who are the most vulnerable, including children and those who handle animals.

As in many situations, donor blood means the difference between life and death. SANBS collects the crucial ingredient – rabies hyperimmune plasma – from those who have been vaccinated against rabies.

VIP campaign in overdrive at Onderstepoort

Among them are many students of the University of Pretoria’s Veterinary Faculty, where SANBS recently launched a VIP donor drive. The educational event and pre-testing were held at the university’s Onderstepoort campus, where experts in rabies and communicable diseases, Professor Lucille Blumberg and Doctor Jackie Weyer, captivated the students with their expertise in the field.

Pam Larkin from the National Bioproducts Institute (NBI) then explained that the plasma is sent to the NBI to be made into the final products used to combat the disease in people who have been exposed to an infected
animal.

SANBS tested the students on site and the interest in donation was so positive that it led to the establishment of a permanent hyperimmune plasma blood drive at Onderstepoort.

Give and take

Hyperimmune plasma is collected through plasmapheresis, a give-and-take procedure that separates the liquid into its components. The plasma is collected, while the red and white blood cells are returned to the donor’s body.

Although the National Institute for Communicable Diseases estimates that there are only about 10 confirmed cases of rabies in South Africa a year, it is best to be prepared. The good news is that there is a role for you even if you have not been vaccinated against rabies, as SANBS will administer the necessary vaccinations to build up the antibodies in your plasma to the required levels.

You can then donate as frequently as every two weeks, depending on your antibody level. It takes no longer than 45 minutes, but it will undoubtedly be the key to a long life for someone else.