A total of 14 people in Anderson County have been referred to their health care providers for rabies consultation in association with a case involving a kitten that tested positive for the disease, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported today.

Cats
Kitten Public domain image/Rosendahl

“Rabies is a threat to humans, pets and wild animals,” said Sandra Craig of DHEC’s Bureau of Environmental Health Services (BEHS). “All pet owners should have their dogs, cats and ferrets vaccinated regularly as required by state law. It is extremely important to the health of your pet, your family and you that pet vaccinations are kept up-to-date.

“This is a continuing investigation,” Craig said, “and it involves the quarantining of numerous pets. Unvaccinated pets that are exposed to the rabies virus must be quarantined or euthanized. Rabies is fatal once the virus reaches the brain, yet the heartache of losing a pet to this disease can be avoided. DHEC-sponsored rabies clinics are offered across the state by local veterinarians each spring, and low-cost vaccines are available every day at local veterinary clinics.

Talk to your veterinarian to determine when you should vaccinate a young puppy or kitten, as well as when to schedule a booster. 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.

“About 275 South Carolinians must undergo preventive treatment for rabies every year, with most exposures coming from bites or scratches by a rabid or suspected rabid animal,” she said. “Wild animals contract the disease most often, but domestic pets can contract rabies as well.

“If you think you have been exposed to the rabies virus through a bite, scratch or the saliva of a possibly infected animal, immediately wash the affected area with plenty of soap and water,” Craig said. “Then be sure to get medical attention and report the incident to DHEC.”

Rabies is an acute viral infection that is transmitted to humans or other mammals usually through the saliva from a bite of an infected animal. It is also rarely contracted through breaks in the skin or contact with mucous membranes. It has been suggested that airborne transmission is possible in caves where there are heavy concentrations of bats.

According to the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, all mammals are susceptible to rabies. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, dogs, coyotes and cats are the likely suspects. Other animals like otters and ferrets are also high risk. Mammals like rabbits, squirrels, rodents and opossums are rarely infected.

Rabies infected animals can appear very aggressive, attacking for no reason. Some may act very tame. They may look like they are foaming at the mouth or drooling because they cannot swallow their saliva. Sometimes the animal may stagger (this can also be seen in distemper). Not long after this point they will die. Most animals can transmit rabies days before showing symptoms.

Initially, like in many diseases, the symptoms of rabies are non-specific; fever, headache and malaise. This may last several days. At the site of the bite, there may be some pain and discomfort. Symptomsthen progress to more severe: confusion, delirium, abnormal behavior and hallucinations. If it gets this far, thedisease is nearly 100% fatal.

Although worldwide it is estimated that there are more than 55,000 deaths due to rabies annually,human rabies cases are extremely rare in the United States, which averages  less than five human rabies cases annually.

Human rabies is prevented by administration of rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page

There were 124 confirmed cases of animal rabies during 2013 in South Carolina. There have been 87 confirmed cases in animals statewide this year. This animal is the first to test positive in 2014 from Anderson County, with positive lab confirmation on August 19. There were 12 animals that tested positive in that county in 2013.