Wiregrass counties see rabies increase

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 10, 2017

While Covington County only saw one case of rabies last year and has seen zero cases reported this year, its Wiregrass neighbors haven’t been so lucky.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the county saw one rabid raccoon last year.

Star-News records show that it was found in the Carolina Community in March 2016.

At the time, ADPH officials said that that local public health officials were urging people to take basic, but extremely important precautions against rabies.

In Coffee County, there were two cases of rabid foxes, four rabid raccoons, one rabid dog and one rabid bat. So, far they have seen zero cases this year.

In Geneva County, they have two rabid raccoons and one rabid bobcat. This year, they have seen two rabid raccoons.

In Dale County, there was one case of a rabid raccoon. They have seen one rabies infected raccoon and one bat this year.

Houston County led the state last year with three rabid foxes and 14 rabid raccoons. So far this year, it has seen two rabid raccoons.

ADPH says that raccoons make up 50 to 60 percent of all rabies cases each year.

In Alabama, there are two different strains of rabies virus: the raccoon variant and the bat variant. The raccoon strain can infect other wildlife, such as foxes, coyotes, and skunks; but more importantly, it can infect people’s pets. Vaccination of dogs, cats, and ferrets is required by law. Vaccinations for other species, such as horses and livestock are also available and recommended. Vaccinating animals help ensure protection should they unknowingly be exposed to a rabid animal. Other simple prevention methods is to keep pets properly confined or on leashes, avoid leaving trash or leftover pet food uncovered which may attract wildlife, and avoid handling bats.

The bat variant can also infect pets or people. Bats present a unique risk of rabies because their bites may be unknown or leave insignificant marks. If you should have bats in your house or bedroom, please contact your physician or local health department for consultation.

The following precautions should be taken to avoid possible exposure to rabies:

  • Do not allow pets to run loose; confine them within a fenced-in area or with a leash;
  • Do not leave out uneaten pet food or scraps around your house;
  • Do not illegally feed or keep wildlife as pets;
  • Do not go near wildlife or domestic animals that are acting in a strange or unusual manner;
  • Instruct children not to go near any stray or wild animal regardless of its behavior; and,
  • Advise children to tell an adult if they are bitten or scratched by an animal.

State law requires that all cats, dogs and ferrets 12 weeks of age and older must be kept current with rabies vaccinations.

Rabies vaccines are also available for horses and other livestock if recommended by a veterinarian.

Vaccinating animals reduces the risk of rabies infection should an exposure occur, thus vaccination helps protect the animals, as well as their owners and caretakers.

Rabies vaccinations are available through local veterinarians.