Rabies is an acute viral disease of the central nervous system that affects humans and other mammals. It is almost exclusively transmitted through saliva from the bite of an infected animal. Another name for the disease is hydrophobia, which literally means "fear of water," a symptom shared by half of all people infected with rabies.
Any warm blooded animal can become infected by the rabies virus. Animals considered at HIGH RISK for rabies are raccoons, skunks, foxes, bat, and coyotes. Domestic livestock, dogs and cats may be exposed to the virus by these and other species of wildlife. Humans may be exposed to the virus by any of these sources.
Once introduced into the body, the virus travels along the nerves to the spinal cord and brain, causing, depression, confusion, painful muscle spasms, sensitivity to touch, loud noise, and light, extreme thirst, painful swallowing, excessive salivation, loss of muscle tone, paralysis and death. Once symptoms occur the disease is always FATAL.
Because of the seriousness of rabies and because it is such a preventable disease, Georgia State law and Henry County's Animal Control Ordinance require all dogs and cats over 12 weeks of age be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian and this vaccine be kept current for the lifetime of the animal. It is also required that your pet wear a collar with its current rabies vaccination tag attached to it. Vaccinating your companion animals against rabies helps protect them from the disease. Also, a vaccinated domestic pet population provides a buffer zone between wildlife rabies and humans.
Only a laboratory test of an animal's brain tissue can confirm the presence of rabies. In 2014, Henry County Animal Care and Control submitted 32 animals to the Georgia Department of Human Resources Central Public Health Laboratory for testing. Of this number, eighteen (18) animals tested positive for the rabies virus. The Georgia Department of Human Resources Central Public Health Laboratory will NOT randomly test animals for the rabies virus. They will ONLY test an animal if that animal has actually bitten either a person or a companion animal.
Henry County has a large wildlife population. Wildlife is extremely adaptable and can be found in both rural and populated areas throughout the County. It is a common misconception that wildlife, such as raccoon and foxes, out during daylight hours are sick. The Henry County Animal Care and Control Department does not respond to wildlife sightings or to calls regarding nuisance wildlife.
We do however, respond if a person or a companion animal is bitten by either a wild animal or a companion animal.
What Should You Do If You Are Bitten by an Animal?
A "bite" occurs when the teeth or claws of an animal break your skin and bleeding occurs or if your mucus membranes come into contact with the saliva of an animal.
ALL ANIMAL TO HUMAN BITES MUST BE REPORTED TO ANIMAL CONTROL AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. In the event of an animal bite, immediately cleanse the contact area with soap and running water. In addition to notifying Animal Control, call your doctor or emergency room.
If you are bitten by a dog, cat or ferret, the animal should be quarantined for ten (10) days. Studies have shown that if these animals were capable of transmitting the rabies virus at the time of a bite, it will show definite symptoms or be dead within this ten (10) day time frame.
A bite from a rabbit, squirrel, rat, chipmunk, mouse or opossum are not cause for concern, unless the bite was unprovoked.
Raccoons, skunks, foxes bats and coyotes are considered HIGH RISK animals for rabies. A scratch or bite from one of these animals IS cause for concern. There is no quarantine period for these animals. High risk animals should be euthanized and brain tissue submitted for testing as soon as possible to determine if rabies exposure has occurred. If the animal is not available for testing, the Georgia Rabies Control Manual states that the animal should be considered positive for rabies. In this case, you should follow the advice of your health care provider in regard to post exposure rabies treatment.
What Is Post Exposure Rabies Treatment?
The story of dozens of "rabies shots" in the stomach of a bite victim is not true. In reality, post- exposure rabies treatment consists of one (1) dose of anti-bodies (immune-globulin) and then a series of five (5) vaccinations and given in the arms and hip.
What Can I Do to Help Protect Myself, My Family and My Pets from Rabies?
The key to control and prevention of rabies in a community is RESPONSIBLE PET OWNERSHIP:
- Abide by the Henry County Animal Control Ordinance by keeping your pets physically confined on your property or on a leash. Roaming pets are more likely to be exposed to rabies without the owner's knowledge. Keeping your pets indoors offers the best protection, but if your dog spends time outdoors unsupervised, visible fencing will not only keep your dog at home, it can help protect your dog from other animals. Outdoor cats are more vulnerable as they are not as easily confined by a fence. The best protection your cat, in addition to vaccination, is to stay indoors.
- Talk to your neighbors and ask questions about suspicious animals. Report anything unusual to the Henry County Animal Care and Control Department. Share your knowledge with others and encourage them to help you keep your neighborhood safe for pets and children.
- Keep your pets’ rabies vaccinations current. Rabies vaccines may only be administered by a licensed veterinarian. One year and three year vaccines are available.
- DO NOT keep wild animals as pets. Skunks and raccoon can be born with rabies and be carriers of the disease without ever showing symptoms! Further, in Georgia keeping wild animals is illegal without the proper permits.
- DO NOT approach or handle any wild animal. Almost any animal will attack if cornered or threatened. Avoid wild animals, especially if they appear friendly. If you find an animal that may be sick or injured, call the Animal Care and Control Department.
- Make your house and yard unattractive to wild animals. Feed pets inside and remove uneaten food promptly; keep trash cans tightly closed; cap chimneys; and seal off any openings in attics, under porches, in basements or outbuildings.
- Teach children not to approach strange dogs, cats or other animals and to report any bite, scratch or contact with any animal.
- REPORT to Animal Care and Control Control any loose dogs and cats as well as any animal behaving in an abnormal manner.
- If your dog, cat or other domestic animal has been bitten or attacked by wild animal. wild animal, REPORT the incident to Animal Control so that the circumstances can be evaluated and appropriate action taken.
ANIMAL TO HUMAN BITES MUST BE REPORTED TO ANIMAL CARE AND CONTROL.
Things To Remember ...
- RABIES is caused by a virus and is FATAL.
- Rabies is transmitted by contact with the saliva of an infected animal - usually through a scratch or bite wound.
- Immediate cleansing of the bite wounds with soap and running water or just running water MAY prevent the virus from entering the body.
- High risk species include FOXES, SKUNKS, RACCOONS, AND BATS.
- Make your house and yard unattractive to these animals.
- REPORT any contact between a high risk species and a domestic animal to Animal Care & Control.
- REPORT all animal bites. Get a good description of the biting animal and where it may be found. If the animal can not be located, post exposure treatment may be recommended.
- Only DOGS, CATS, and FERRETS can be quarantined to observe for symptoms of rabies. All OTHER ANIMALS (including dog or cat hybrids) must be humanely euthanized and tested.
- Be sure to maintain current rabies vaccinations on your pets.
- Comply with Henry County's Restraint Law.
Photos on this page courtesy Steve Nail, Animal Control Experts Wildlife Removal Service.