There has been a second confirmed positive case of a raccoon carrying rabies – a sometimes fatal disease – in Aiken County.
The infected raccoon was captured on Wednesday in the area of Cherry Hills Drive in Aiken, according to the Aiken Department of Public Safety. This is the fifth animal in 2013, within the county, to test positive for the zoonotic disease that affects the central nervous system.
All species of mammals are vulnerable to the disease, but there are a minimal number of animals that are sources for the pathogen. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes and bats, all endemic to Aiken County, are among the animals most commonly associated with transmitting rabies.
However, there are ways to preclude and minimize coming in contact with an infected animal, and people can protect themselves and their pets.
Rabies is transmitted when the host animal's infected saliva is passed on to an uninfected animal, most commonly through a bite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There were eight confirmed rabies positives in Aiken County in 2012, with raccoons accounting for half of the infected animals. The virus was also confirmed in three foxes and one bat. There were 137 confirmed rabies positives last year in South Carolina, according to the South Carolina Department of Environmental Control.
Pet owners should vaccinate their dogs, cats and ferrets on a routine basis as a preventative measure, and should keep their animal's shots up to date, according to the South Carolina Department of Environmental Control. The vaccine should be administered by a veterinarian.
“To reduce the risk of getting rabies, we recommend that people avoid wild animals acting tame and tame animals acting wild,” said Sue Ferguson of DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health Services. “About 275 South Carolinians must undergo preventive treatment for rabies every year, with most exposures coming from bites or scratches by a rabid or suspected rabid animal. Wild animals carry the disease most often, but domestic pets can contract rabies as well.”
Ferguson said state law requires pet owners to have their pets regularly vaccinated against the disease.
“If you think you have been exposed to the rabies virus through a bite, scratch or the saliva of a possibly infected animal, immediately wash the affected area with plenty of soap and water,” Ferguson said. “Then be sure to get medical attention and report the incident to DHEC.”
Ferrets and cats should be kept indoors and dogs under direct supervision. Pets should be spayed and neutered to reduce the surplus population of unwanted animals, and people should remain vigilant and report the presence of stray animals in their neighborhood to animal control.
The state health department urges people not to handle stray or wild animals that are behaving aggressively or abnormally. Instead, call Aiken Public Safety's Animal Control Division at 803-642-7620 if in the city limits or Aiken County Animal Control at 803-642-1537.
For more information about the disease, visit www.scdhec.gov.
Ben Baugh has been covering the equine industry and equestrian sport for the Aiken Standard since 2004. Among the awards Baugh has won include the 2003 Raleigh Burroughs Award as the turf writer making the most impact on the Florida Thoroughbred Industry.