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The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported Thursday that multiple people have been referred to their health care providers after being potentially exposed to rabies by a stray cat that tested positive for the disease. 

The stray cat was submitted to DHEC's laboratory for testing on June 19, and was confirmed to have rabies on June 20.

The cat was described as being black in color, with medium-length hair and having a small build. It also had white accents on its chest and face.

The cat was found near Cry Babies Tavern located on Boundary Street in Beaufort.

DHEC says it has reason to believe that the stray cat had kittens that live near Cry Babies Tavern. It cannot confirm if the kittens have rabies as they have not been caught or submitted for testing.

The Department is working with local animal control to investigate the whereabouts of the kittens.

"Rabies is usually transmitted through a bite which allows saliva from an infected animal to be introduced into the body of a person or another animal. However, saliva or neural tissue contact with open wounds or areas such as the eyes, nose or mouth could also potentially transmit rabies," said David Vaughan, director of rabies prevention.

"To reduce the risk of getting rabies, always give wild and stray animals their space. If you see an animal in need, avoid touching it and contact someone trained in handling animals, such as your local animal control officer or wildlife rehabilitator," Vaughan said.

It is also important to keep pets up-to-date on their rabies vaccination.

Anyone exposed to the cat or its kittens should get medical attention and report the incident to the Beaufort Environmental Health Services' office at 843-846-1030 during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. To report a bite or exposure on holidays and/or times outside of normal business hours, please call the DHEC after-hours service number at 888-847-0902.

Residents can contact their local Bureau of Environmental Health Services office using DHEC's interactive map: www.scdhec.gov/EAOffices. For more information on rabies visit: www.scdhec.gov/rabies or www.cdc.gov/rabies.

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