Skunks expose victims to rabies


COLUMBIA — Three people have been referred to their health care providers for consultation after being potentially exposed to rabies.

The first two exposures occurred in the Union area of Union County and the third occurred in the Roebuck area of Spartanburg County. All three exposures are associated with skunks that tested positive for rabies, the Department of Health and Environmental Control reported today.

The Union County exposure occurred on Oct. 16, 2015. The two victims were potentially exposed to rabies while handling the skunk’s carcass after the skunk, which was captured and put down, attacked a puppy. The skunk tested positive for rabies on Oct. 20.

The Spartanburg County exposure occurred on Oct. 18. The single victim was potentially exposed while handling a skunk’s carcass after the skunk attacked three dogs. During the attack, the skunk was killed by the dogs. The skunk tested positive for rabies on Oct. 21.

“The threat of rabies is still present after an animal is deceased,” said Sandra Craig of DHEC’s Bureau of Environmental Health Services (BEHS). “Please keep this in mind if you find yourself in a situation where you have the potential to be exposed to the saliva, brain, or body fluids from an animal — dead or alive. The only way to determine if an animal has rabies is to test the brain in a laboratory.”

“About 275 South Carolinians must undergo preventive treatment for rabies every year, with most, but not all, exposures coming from bites or scratches by a rabid or suspected rabid animal,” Craig said. “The virus is known to be transmitted from mammal to mammal through exposure to saliva or neural tissue. To reduce the risk of getting rabies, we recommend that people avoid wild animals acting tame and tame animals acting wild.”

“Talk to your veterinarian to determine when you should vaccinate a young puppy or kitten, as well as when to schedule a booster,” Craig said. “While puppies and kittens are still very young and not fully immunized, they should be monitored whenever they are outside in order to reduce possible exposure to diseases that other animals may carry. Unvaccinated pets that are exposed to the rabies virus must be quarantined or euthanized.”

The best way to protect your pet and your family from this fatal disease is to keep your pets up-to-date on their vaccinations.

During 2014, there were 139 confirmed cases of animal rabies in South Carolina. Statewide this year, there have been 108 laboratory confirmed cases of rabies in animals. The skunk from Union County is the first animal to test positive in 2015. There were none that tested positive in Union County last year. The skunk from Spartanburg is the fifth animal to test positive in 2015. There were six animals that tested positive in Spartanburg County last year.

For additional information on rabies, visit http://www.scdhec.gov/rabies, or contact your local DHEC BEHS office at http://www.scdhec.gov/HomeAndEnvironment/DHECLocations/.

CDC’s rabies webpages can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/rabies.

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