While health and animal control officials have known for years that the rabies virus is in Bulloch County, two recent cases serve as reminders to be careful around wild or stray animals and to have your pets vaccinated.
Rabies is a "preventable viral disease" that "infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With a total of three confirmed and several unconfirmed cases of rabies in Bulloch County since January, the Bulloch County Health Department "urges residents to take precautions and to vaccinate their pets to protect against getting rabies," said Mary Beth Kennedy Butler, public information officer with the Southeast Health District of the Georgia Department of Public Health. "Doing so could save your life and the life of your pet."
Bulloch County Humane Enforcement Supervisor Joey Sanders said his office is currently working two rabies cases in Brooklet regarding pets that fought with rabid raccoons.
At one residence, two cats tangled with a sick raccoon. While one cat is under quarantine at the Bulloch County Animal Shelter, the other cannot be found, Sanders said.
At another home, a neighbor saw someone's dog fighting with a raccoon in the daytime. They were unsure whether the dog was bitten, but it is also under quarantine, he said.
Not all animals suspected of having rabies are sent for testing, Sanders said. Sometimes it is obvious that an animal is suffering from the disease, and unless a person or pet was bitten, the sick animal is usually put down, he said.
"We know we have (rabies) in Bulloch County," Sanders said.
Brooklet police Chief Doug Meyer said residents need to be aware of the risk and take precautions.
"Every year it arises, and in hot weather it seems to get worse," he said.
People usually get rabies from the bite of an infected animal, Butler said.
"Many kinds of animals can pass rabies to people," she said. "Wild animals are much more likely to carry rabies, especially raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes. However, dogs, cats, cattle or any warm-blooded animal can pass rabies to people."
It is a life-threatening illness, she said.
"If a wild animal bites your pet, seek veterinary assistance for the pet immediately and contact the health department," Butler said. "If you are bitten, wash the bite thoroughly and see your healthcare provider."
Symptoms in humans include fever, headache and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms, according to information from the CDC.
While only three cases of rabies have been confirmed in Bulloch County this year, the two most recent occurred within a mile of each other in Brooklet, Sanders said.
Butler suggests taking precautions to keep your pets and family safe by:
Vaccinating your pets and keeping wild or stray animals away from them;
Not handling, feeding or unintentionally attracting wild animals to your home or yard;
Teaching children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly; and
Calling your local animal control agency to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood.
For more information about rabies, contact the Bulloch County Health Department's Office of Environmental Health at (912) 764-5969.
If you see an animal you suspect may have rabies, do not approach it but call Bulloch County Humane Enforcement at (912) 489-6911 to report the animal, Sanders said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.