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The analysis from local veterinarians is good news. Not good is the fact that only three vets are still offering spring clinics locally for rabies vaccinations.

Dr. J.W. Hutto of Hutto Animal Hospital in Holly Hill, Dr. James Mitchell of Bamberg Veterinary Clinic and Dr. Mark Sease of Hampton (holding a clinic in Bamberg) are continuing the practice of offering the special clinics, which the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control says are important in calling attention to the viral disease and state law requiring that animals receive vaccinations to prevent rabies.

At age 87, Hutto has been a part of clinics in April over many years. With only a limited number of clinics locally in 2018, he is concerned.

“Rabies is not a real problem now in our county. I think the way we got there is by being real strict on vaccinations for rabies. I don’t understand why some vets are discontinuing that," he told The T&D. "I know the people just aren’t coming out like they used to, but I’m going to hold two clinics down here on April 7 and April 14 in my office."

Rabies once was a major problem here. In the late 1970s, the county had the highest rabies rate in the Southeast. The logical fear is the outbreak could reoccur if people fail to get pets vaccinated.

Yet even without the clinics, Hutto and Mitchell don't see that happening. Both offer an uplifting assessment that people today are doing better by their animals.

“People take a lot better care of their dogs than when I was a young man, but the threat of rabies has been through all my life, and I don’t see any change in that. It’s there. I hope everybody vaccinates and has good luck,” Hutto said.

Mitchell's assessment: “More people are bringing their pets into the office and having their yearly shots and physical exams and taking better care of their dogs. I think it’s just a client-education issue, where people are becoming more aware of what the dogs need."

Clinics or no clinics, more people taking better care or not, ensuring that dogs, cats and other pet mammals get the rabies shots is vital.

Spread by the bite of infected animals, rabies is a virus that is nearly always fatal once the disease is contracted. In 2011, South Carolina experienced its first human death from rabies in 53 years due to an unreported exposure to a rabid bat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as many as 40,000 people in the United States receive rabies post-exposure treatment each year with annual public health costs being upward of $300 million.

Rabies in humans 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.

According to DHEC, there were 63 positive rabies cases confirmed in animals across the state in 2017, including 13 skunks, six foxes, four bats, six cats, two coyotes, one dog, one goat and one groundhog.

No animals tested positive for rabies in Orangeburg, Bamberg or Calhoun counties last year. While maintaining that record would be ideal, the likelihood is not good. Rabies exists here and can be spread, and in rural counties such as ours, the chance of being exposed to a rabid wild animal is more likely than in many other locales.

The key to preventing the spread of the disease via wild animals is to vaccinate livestock and pets – thereby protecting them and humans.

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