“We’ve had a slight uptick in confirmed positives for animal rabies in northwest Georgia recently,” said Northwest Georgia Public Health Environmental Health Director Tim Allee, “so we’re reminding all residents to take certain precautions.”
“Reducing the risk of rabies in domestic animals and limiting human contact with wild animals are two measures central to the prevention of human rabies,” explained Allee. “We’re reminding residents to vaccinate all domestic animals, particularly dogs and cats, and to avoid exposure — for themselves and their domestic pets -- to potentially rabid wildlife such as raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats.”
Allee also encouraged people to be responsible pet owners and not leave pet food outside. This can attract raccoons, which are the number one rabies carrier in northwest Georgia, and can occur even in heavily populated, non-rural, in-town neighborhoods. Allee said proximity of woodlands and rivers to non-rural, city neighborhoods provides a natural corridor for raccoon movement and the potential for rabies.
“It’s fairly common to see raccoons in our in-town neighborhoods, and people need to understand that leaving pet food unattended will attract them and increase the likelihood of human contact as well as pet contact with a rabies-carrying animal,” he said.
Gordon County Environmental Health Manager Christy Blair said there have not been any positive rabies cases in Gordon County since last year but nevertheless, the disease is a danger in Northwest Georgia and pets must be vaccinated.
The environmental health office will host a rabies clinic sometime in the fall this year with $5 vaccinations for dogs and cats, she said. A more specific date and time will be announced later.
Public health officials are also reminding citizens that wild, stray and unvaccinated animals may be infected with rabies and that they should take precautions to protect themselves, their families and their pets. Other precautions include:
* Vaccinate all dogs, cats and ferrets against rabies. Check with your veterinarian to make sure your pets have up-to-date protection against rabies. Remember that the vaccination of pets against rabies protects not only the pets, but more importantly, protects people.
* Don’t leave pet food out where wild animals can access it. Leaving pet food out is a sure way of getting wild animals to visit your home endangering you, your family and your pets.
* Remind children to avoid animals they don’t recognize, especially stray or wild animals. These animals may be infected with rabies.
* Keep pets at home. Obey any county laws requiring that dogs be restrained to the owner’s property. Pets that are kept close to home are less likely to encounter a rabid animal.
* Report any raccoon, fox, bat or skunk that is out during the day in a residential area or that is behaving strangely to the local Georgia Department of Natural Resources Game and Fish Division office.
* Report stray dogs and cats and aggressive or sick-appearing animals to the local animal-control office.
* Don’t attempt to assist injured or sick animals without professional help. Even animals which would never bite otherwise can bite when sick or in pain.
* Bats found in sleeping quarters should be captured and tested for rabies even when there is no evidence of a bite wound or contact with the sleeping individuals.
* After-hours calls involving aggressive animals should be directed to 911.
* After-hours calls involving animal bites and their potential for rabies exposure should be directed to 866-PUB-HLTH (866-782-4584). Public health officials emphasize that people who awake and discover a bat in their bedroom should take immediate action, if possible carefully capturing the bat and arranging for the local health department to send it to the state lab for rabies testing. If the bat can’t be captured for testing, or if it tests positive for rabies, the individual should receive rabies vaccine -- even if there’s no evidence of a wound or recollection of direct contact with the bat. A bat’s teeth are so small that a potentially dangerous bite can easily go unnoticed.
Rabies is a viral disease of animals most often transmitted when an animal with rabies bites or scratches a person or another animal. A wild animal that bites or scratches a person should be destroyed and tested for rabies. Take care to avoid damaging the animal’s head, as it’s needed in rabies testing. Animal-control officials should evaluate any situations that involve pets that scratch or bite a person or another pet.
“If you see a raccoon, bat, fox or other nocturnal animal in the day, you should assume it’s sick and avoid contact. And make sure your pets are vaccinated,” Allee said.
GordonCounty residents can contact the Environmental Health Office of the Gordon County Health Department at 706-624-1440 for a free copy of the informative brochure, “Rabies & Animal Safety.” Residents can visit the Northwest Georgia Public Health website at http://www.nwgapublichealth.org/env/rabies.htm, which contains county-specific animal rabies data for the ten-county Northwest Georgia Public Health district as well as information on rabies precaution and avoidance.
Residents can also visit the CDC rabies site for additional information.