Pet owners are urged to vaccinate their pets against a deadly infectious disease that attacks nerves in the brain and spinal cord and is 100 percent fatal if left untreated.

Rabies clinics are currently under way in the area, with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control stressing that keeping rabies vaccinations current is key in helping people protect themselves, their families and neighbors.

“It’s important to keep family pets up to date on their rabies vaccinations because it protects the health of the animal and the humans the animal may come in contact with. Pet vaccinations are also required by state law,” DHEC media spokesperson Lindsey Evans said. “DHEC is currently partnering with vets across the state to offer rabies vaccination clinics.”

The rabies vaccination is usually an annual vaccination, but veterinarians also offer multi-year vaccines for cats and dogs that provide good protection and satisfy the legal requirement.

“I prefer them having a rabies vaccine done each year. That’s just my personal preference,” Dr. Wayne Harley of Orangeburg Veterinary Associates said.

Harley said he is seeing fewer and fewer people participating in the special vaccination clinics.

“Some of it can be attributed to these out-of-town caravans that come from other counties into our area. They get a lot of our people, but I can’t tell you the other reasons. Every year it’s gotten to be less and less that show up,” he said.

Harley added, “I just encourage people to take the vaccinations seriously. The clinics are set up in areas, and there is no excuse not to get your dog vaccinated.”

While the coyote population has raised the rabies threat, an increasing population of feral cats and dogs has also contributed to the problem, he said.

“You see a lot of homeless cats and dogs. This year I got bit in the face and had to have surgery. Unfortunately, the dog that bit me was not vaccinated, though it was not rabid. It had to be quarantined because it was not up to date on its vaccines. I had to get 20 stitches; the bite ripped my top lip in half,” said Harley, who underwent preventive treatment.

Raccoons, foxes and bats are among the other wild animals that have to be watched, he said.

“Raccoons are usually the leading wild animal in our area. In the Upstate, it appears that skunks and foxes are the leading wild animals. Any mammal can get rabies, but those are the most common and, of course, bats,” Harley said.

The Rabies Control Act mandates that DHEC clinics cannot charge more than $10 for the vaccinations. Harley said the clinics held in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties will charge $8 for them.

According to DHEC’s Evans, there were no confirmed positive rabies cases in Bamberg County in 2013. There was one confirmed positive case in Calhoun County and three confirmed positive rabies cases in Orangeburg County, among 123 cases statewide in 2013.

Current South Carolina law requires every cat, dog and ferret to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian. The owner of a domesticated pet that has not been vaccinated may be found guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $500, or imprisoned up to 30 days.

In South Carolina, rabies is most often found in raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats. It is also common in coyotes, but is almost never seen in squirrels, opossums, mice, rabbits and chipmunks. Annually, 15,000 to 39,000 Americans are vaccinated for rabies as a precaution after being bitten by animals, primarily unvaccinated dogs.

Dates, times and locations of special rabies clinics can be obtained from area health departments, veterinarians or by going to www.scdhec.gov/rabies.

Dogs must be on a leash, and cats must be in a box or carrier when they get the vaccinations. The owner is directly responsible for the safety and control of their pets.

Contact the writer: 803-533-5534

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