Public Health Official Warns Residents to Take Precautions Against Rabies

April 20, 2015

Good intentions turned into tragedy when a Southwest Georgia resident using an online service adopted a dog that turned out to have rabies – and the person’s existing pets didn’t have up-to-date vaccinations, said Southwest Health District Environmental Health Director Dewayne Tanner.

“As a result, this well-intentioned individual ended up losing beloved pets that had been exposed and could not be saved,” he said. “That was not an outcome anybody wanted.”

Further, when people are bitten or scratched by animals with rabies, they face unpleasant and expensive prophylaxis treatment.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), rabies, most commonly found in wild animals, is a viral disease that is carried in an animal’s saliva. The disease travels from the site of a bite through the nerves and into the brain of an animal, ultimately causing death. 

Tanner cautioned that it is not unusual to see positive rabies cases in the 14-county Southwest Health District or in other parts of the state.

“Wild animals that are known to harbor the disease include raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, bobcats and coyotes,” he said. “When they come into contact with strays or unvaccinated pets, they can pass the infection.”

During the spring, more wild animals are stirring and more people and pets are spending time outdoors – increasing the potential for rabies exposure.

“The best protection against rabies is to vaccinate your pets and livestock,” Tanner said. “We don’t recommend that you interact with wild animals or strays, especially if they are showing odd behavior – such as being out during the day or acting aggressively.”

People bitten by wild animals or strays should seek immediate medical attention and contact their county health department and local animal control or law enforcement.

“They should not attempt to catch the animal themselves,” Tanner stressed. “The authorities will handle that so that it can be tested for rabies.”

Rabies is fatal in humans if untreated, but almost 100 percent preventable in humans when prompt action is taken.

Dogs and cats three months old and older should be vaccinated against rabies. Pet ferrets should also receive rabies inoculations, as should valuable livestock, Tanner said.

For more information about rabies, visit DPH’s Environmental Health Section Rabies FAQ or visit the Southwest Georgia Health District online at www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org

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