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Don’t risk rabies

Dozens of Southwest Georgia residents get bitten by animals every year—and those bites should be reported to the environmental health specialists in their county health department.

“Reporting is important because we conduct rabies investigations,” explained Southwest Health District Environmental Health Director Dewayne Tanner. “Last year, out of the 55 samples (of brain tissue from suspect animals) that were tested, 24 were positive for rabies.”

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus found in the saliva and brain tissue of infected animals, Tanner said.

“Human cases of rabies are rare, but people can get infected. The disease is found in many types of wild animals in Georgia. If your pet hasn’t had rabies shots, it could get infected.”

In Georgia, wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats are among the most common carriers of the rabies virus. However, any mammal can become infected.

The virus is passed from a rabid animal when its saliva gets into a wound, an open cut, the mouth or the eyes, said Tanner.

He said many of the cases investigated by environmental health specialists in the 14-county Southwest Health District have involved unvaccinated dogs or cats.

“If you are bitten by a stray, a wild animal or an unvaccinated pet, wash the bite in warm, soapy water and get medical attention at once,” recommended Tanner. “You will need to be evaluated promptly to determine if you should to be treated with a series of shots to prevent rabies infection. If treatment begins promptly after contact with the virus, rabies infection can be prevented in humans.”

Georgia law requires dogs, cats and ferrets get rabies vaccinations when they are three to four months old, and to have annual rabies vaccinations after that.

Pets allowed to roam or be unattended outdoors may tangle with rabid animals, he pointed out.

“Getting pets vaccinated and keeping their rabies vaccinations up-to-date is the best way to protect them from getting infected,” said Tanner.

People should avoid approaching wild animals or strays, and should warn children not to try to pet or play with them.

“Some animals infected by rabies seem tame, while others are aggressive. It is best to keep your distance from any strange animal, especially wildlife,” Tanner said. “Don’t keep wild animals as pets. It is dangerous as well as illegal.”

For more information, contact your local county health department or go online to the Southwest Health District web page, www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org.