North Georgia Health District officials announced today that twelve people are currently receiving post-exposure rabies treatment due to contact with domestic animals that have now tested positive for the disease.
Within the past two weeks, two puppies and a kitten have been confirmed by the Georgia Public Health Laboratory as having rabies. All three pets were too young to receive rabies vaccinations. One of the puppies was in Whitfield County and the other was in Gilmer County. The kitten was in Cherokee County. In each case, the pet was attacked by a rabid wild animal and bitten in the head, but it was not reported to veterinarians or health authorities until rabies symptoms developed in the pet.
The time between being bitten by the wild animal and onset of rabies symptoms was very short because the head bites were close to the brain. The rabies virus only travels through the nervous system to the brain, not through blood or other organs. The closer a bite is from the brain, the shorter time it takes to reach the brain.
Wild animals that transmitted rabies to the puppies and kitten were a skunk, a raccoon and, possibly, a coyote.
The fact that these unrelated cases occurred in separate areas of the North Georgia Health District within the past two weeks is a coincidence, and even more coincidental is that all pets involved were too young to vaccinate. Pets must be at least three months old to be vaccinated against rabies.
Parents are strongly cautioned to keep children away from wild animals, strays and unvaccinated pets that may have been in contact with wild animals. Vaccinate all dogs and cats at three months of age and no later.
Wild carnivores are the animals most likely to spread rabies to pets and humans, including raccoons, skunks, foxes, bobcats, and coyotes. It is also not uncommon for persons to acquire rabies from bats. Any bite or other physical contact with a bat or any of these wild carnivores should be evaluated by a medical professional for rabies exposure. Even finding a bat in a bedroom where a person has been sleeping is cause for alarm and should be reported. Human deaths from rabies in the United States are rare, but because rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms begin to develop in a human, the only prevention is anti-rabies treatments given as soon as possible after exposure to rabies. If given in time, the treatments are 100 percent effective in preventing rabies. Only a small minority of wild animals carry and transmit rabies, so indiscriminate killing of them is not warranted. If these types of wild animals or domestic animals seem to be behaving strangely or displaying symptoms suggestive of a neurological illness, contact a veterinarian and the county Environmental Health office at once.
Livestock animals are also susceptible to rabies but can be vaccinated by a veterinarian. Rabies vaccinations are strongly recommended for show livestock and any livestock with which humans have regular contact such as riding horses.
Contact the local Environmental Health Office for questions about rabies or to report an incident that may involve rabies. Contact information for Environmental Health offices in the North Georgia Health District is available at www.nghd.org. Questions and reports may also be directed to the North Georgia Health District Environmental Health office in Dalton, Georgia by calling (706) 529-5757, extension 1161.
Find additional information on CDC’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/index.html.