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Four animal rabies cases reported in Lee and Russell counties so far

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer - 8/24/2017

Aug. 24--The Alabama Department of Public health reported that the state has seen 30 reported cases of animal rabies in 2017. Nine of those cases were in east and southeast Alabama. Four were in Lee and Russell counties.

"Rabies is a deadly viral disease that infects the brain and spinal cord of mammals. The virus is spread from exposure to saliva or nervous tissue from an infected animal, usually through a bite," the department says on their website. Rabies is invariably fatal in animals, and is almost always fatal in humans without prompt medical attention

Most rabies cases in Alabama, and the U.S. eastern coast in general, are from raccoons, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Russell County has reported a case in a raccoon, fox and cat. Lee County reported a raccoon case, with more fox and raccoon cases reported in Henry and Houston counties farther south. In 2016, Alabama saw 77 total cases of rabies, with seven occurring in Lee County.

Columbus has seen a few animal cases in 2017 as well.

So how do you spot a rabid animal, and what should you do if you see one?

There is no surefire way to spot a rabid animal without testing, but there are a few warning signs, according to the Humane Society. The animal may bite or nip at imaginary objects or appear drunk, wobbly or disoriented. The virus transmits through saliva, so it causes the animal to drool excessively -- the telltale "foaming at the mouth."

Another clue is if a typically nocturnal animal, like a skunk or raccoon, is wandering around during the day. Even if it is not behaving aggressively, it may have progressed into the "dumb" phase of the virus where the animal appears dazed and fearless.

If you are bitten by a suspected rabid animal, thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water. That alone may stop an infection, the Alabama Department of Public Health says. Afterward, seek medical attention. A doctor will probably recommend a series of vaccines called post-exposure prophylaxis. That's one dose of rabies immunoglobulin and then five doses of the rabies vaccine.

This used to be an extremely painful series of 21 shots to the stomach muscle, but now it is given much like any other vaccine. Begun relatively quickly, the treatment is 100 percent effective.

The odds of contracting rabies are low, and only about three people die from the disease every year in the United States. But it pays to be cautious, and the Alabama Department of Health and Humane Society urge people to report any suspected rabies cases to local animal control centers, wildlife rehabilitators and health departments.

Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE

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(c)2017 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.)

Visit the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.) at www.ledger-enquirer.com

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