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It was inevitable in South Carolina: A rabid coyote has attacked animals and people in Columbia.

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Officers from the Richland County Sheriff's Department and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources responded to a call of a coyote attack at The Grove apartments on Zimalcrest Drive on Sunday.

At approximately 6:30 a.m., according to police reports, four people and two dogs were attacked and injured by a coyote.

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A female victim described the incident to WLTX-TV: She had leashed her dogs to take them on a morning walk when she and her pets were attacked by a coyote in the complex. The woman was able to separate the dogs and the wild animal and run back inside her apartment. The coyote attacked again, pushing through the door.

The human victims were able to drive themselves to a local hospital, the two dogs were taken to an emergency veterinarian, WLTX reported.

The coyote was located and put down by Richland County sheriff's deputies.

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The Department of Health and Environmental Control informed victims that the coyote tested positive for rabies. They are being advised to seek medical treatment.

The increased presence of coyotes over the past four decades makes them a growing rabies threat among wild animals in the state. Already in 2019, DHEC has confirmed 99 cases of rabies. There were 100 in all of 2018.

Thankfully, no cases have been reported in Orangeburg, Calhoun and Bamberg counties. The coyote is the fourth animal in Richland County to test positive for rabies this year.

Yet it's not as if the threat here cannot be real. In the late 1970s, Orangeburg County had the highest rabies rate in the Southeast but has seen a decline in the number of people treated and the number of suspected rabid animals reported. It had no reported cases in 2017 and none in 2018.

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Rabies is a dangerous disease and potential exposure to it demands immediate medical attention.

The U.S. 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 being upward of $300 million.

In 2011, South Carolina experienced its first human death from rabies in 53 years due to an unreported exposure to a rabid bat.

Rabies is most often carried by wild animals — most notably raccoons, foxes, skunks, bats and, yes, coyotes — and in a rural county such as Orangeburg, the risk of encountering a rabid animal is higher than in many places in the state.

Vaccination of pets against the disease and avoiding exposure to wild animals are the best ways for humans to protect themselves.

"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," according to David Vaughan, director of DHEC's Onsite Wastewater, Rabies Prevention and Enforcement Division.

"To reduce the risk of getting rabies, always give wild and stray animals their space,” Vaughan said.

If a stray dog or wild animal poses an immediate danger, call your county or city animal control officer, DHEC advises. If your county or city does not have an 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 an 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.

Rabies in humans is preventable if treatment is received promptly. The treatments ensure the individuals will not contract rabies.

For more information about rabies, see DHEC’s webpage at scdhec.gov/rabies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s rabies webpages can be found at cdc.gov/rabies and cdc.gov/rabies/bats/contact/capture.html.

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