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County dodges rabies bullet so far

Revised on: 08.3.2018 at 10:31 a.m.

Posted on: 07.19.2018 at 04:00 p.m.

While the season has truly just gotten underway, Columbus County has had no confirmed rabies cases reported to the state Veterinarian office or the county health department so far in 2918.

“Hopefully we can keep that going,” said Kim Smith, director of the Health Department.

Rabies is transmitted by saliva, from an infected mammal’s claws, mouth or teeth. The disease affects the nervous system and the brain, and is almost always fatal. Rabies can take up to six months to display symptoms. Bats are the most common rabies vector in North Carolina, followed closely by raccoons, foxes and feral cats.

State law requires all dogs, cats and ferrets to be vaccinated against the disease. Unvaccinated animals must be kept in quarantine at the owner’s expense for six months, or destroyed. Vaccinated animals bitten or scratched by a rabid animal can receive a booster shot if their vaccine is up to date.

Smith said that with school out for the summer, more people, especially children, have the potential to be exposed to animal bites and scratches. In June, four dog bites were reported to the Health Department, and one person was treated for rabies exposure.

“All animal bites come through the Health Department,” she explained. “We follow up, with Animal control, and see if the person has current tetanus vaccinations, and determine if someone needs rabies treatment.”

Some records are missing from last fall and winter, Smith said, while Animal Control Supervisor Loretta Shipman was transitioning into  the position.

“We don’t have any numbers of bites or possibly rabid animals from October through February,” Smith said, “but as soon as I contacted Loretta, she got right on it.”

Vaccinating pets against the disease is the best defense for everyone, Smith said.

“Rabies vaccinations are far less expensive than treatment,” she said. “It’s also less traumatic for the family and their pets if the animals are up to date. Otherwise the pets have to be euthanized if they have been exposed to a rabid animal.”

While treatment is available for humans, Smith said, it is inconvenient as well as expensive.

“It’s a series of four vaccinations now,” she said, “and the dosage is based on weight. A larger person needs more medicine, and the shots are staggered over a series of different days.”

Rabies tends to be cyclic in nature, with more wild animals being reported for a time, then fewer confirmed cases. The disease often kills wild animals within a few months, according to the Wildlife Resources Commission, but social animals such as raccoons, foxes, feral housecats, skunks and bobcats can pass the sickness around at different times. Possums and coyotes rarely get the disease, according to the WRC, but any mammal can contract rabies if it survives an attack. North Carolina has occasionally has confirmed cases of cattle, hogs, horses, and even squirrels.

While nothing can be done about rabid wild animals, Smith said, humans can take precautions for themselves and their pets.

“Get your pets vaccinated, and stay away from wild animals that don’t act normal,” she said. “Not every dog or cat that bites is going to be rabid, but they have to be treated as such.”

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