The advisories from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control have been coming since July from around the state:
One person in Greenville County was exposed to rabies by a stray cat. On Sept. 25, two stray cats were observed fighting before one turned on the victim, who was subsequently scratched. One of the stray cats was submitted to DHEC's laboratory on Sept. 29 and confirmed to have rabies on Oct 2. The other stray cat, described as having a reddish-black color, ran off and was not available for testing.
One person in Beaufort County was exposed to rabies by a raccoon that tested positive for the disease. On Sept, 2, the victim was potentially exposed to infectious material while handling the dead animal. In addition, a dog was attacked by the raccoon. Since the dog was up to date with its rabies vaccination, it was laced under a 45-day quarantine. If the dog had not been current on its rabies vaccination, a longer quarantine would have been required.
One person in Lancaster County was exposed to rabies by a pet dog. On Sept. 4, the dog began to show abnormal behavior such as ramming into objects, obsessive digging, lethargy and extra salivation. During this time, the victim was potentially exposed to the dog's saliva while trying to provide care for the animal. The dog was submitted to DHEC's laboratory on Sept 6 and confirmed to have rabies the next day.
One person in Pickens County started post-exposure treatment after being potentially exposed to rabies by a stray cat. On July 26, the victim was attacked on their property while trying to provide care for the stray cat. The cat was submitted to DHEC's laboratory on July 27 and confirmed to have rabies the next day.
The Sept. 24 Greenville incident brought the total to 53 confirmed cases of animal rabies statewide in 2017. In 2016, the total reached 94.
"Rabies is a deadly virus that impacts hundreds of South Carolinians every year," said Sandra Craig of DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health Services. "It is transmitted when saliva or neural tissue of an infected animal is introduced into the body of a person or animal. This usually occurs through a bite. However, saliva contact with open wounds or areas such as the eyes, nose or mouth could also potentially transmit rabies."
The disease is preventable if treatment is received promptly. Most treatments are necessary because of exposure in the form of bites and scratches by a rabid animal or one suspected of having the disease. The treatments ensure the individuals will not contract rabies, which is a death sentence if not prevented.
In 2011, South Carolina experienced its first human death from rabies in 53 years due to an unreported exposure to a rabid bat. Rabies in humans is preventable if treatment is provided promptly after exposure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports as many as 40,000 people in the United States receive rabies post-exposure treatment each year with annual public health costs ranging from $245-510 million.
Rabies is most often carried by wild animals — most notably raccoons, foxes, skunks, bats and coyotes — and in a rural county such as Orangeburg, the risk of encountering a rabid animal is much higher than in many places in the state. With deer-hunting season underway, even more people than normal are in the woods and potentially at risk.
In the late 1970s, the county had the highest rabies rate in the Southeast, but has seen a decline since in the number of people treated and the number of suspected rabid animals reported.
One reason may be that people here are more cognizant of the danger — and the law. Pets such as cats, dogs and ferrets can contract rabies and by law must be vaccinated against the virus. Being certain that pets are protected — and thus people are better protected — is only smart.
If you see a wild or stray animal behaving aggressively or abnormally, always play it safe. Do not touch or approach the animal and keep your pets and children safely away from it.
If a stray dog, cat or wild animal poses an immediate danger, call your county or city animal-control officer, DHEC advises. If there is no animal-control officer, call local police or the sheriff’s office to see if they can respond. Typically, animal-control officers will set a trap for the animal.
Most importantly, if you believe you have been exposed to a rabid animal and are potentially at risk, take action.
If you are bitten or scratched by a wild or domestic animal, clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Then be sure to get medical attention and report the incident to your local DHEC office.
Residents can contact their local Bureau of Environmental Health Services office using DHEC's interactive map: http://www.scdhec.gov/HomeAndEnvironment/DHECLocations/. For more information on rabies visit: www.scdhec.gov/rabies or www.cdc.gov/rabies.