For the second time in a week in South Carolina, several people were referred for rabies treatment after exposure to a kitten that was positive for rabies.

Kitten Public domain image/Rosendahl

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported Wednesday that four people in the Gray Court area of Laurens County have been referred to their health care providers for rabies consultation in association with a case involving a stray kitten that tested positive for the disease.

“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.

“Unvaccinated pets that are exposed to the rabies virus must be quarantined or euthanized,” Craig said. “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, such as rabies.

“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 are most often found to be rabid, 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.”

There were 124 confirmed cases of animal rabies during 2013 in South Carolina. There have been 92 confirmed cases in animals statewide this year. This animal is the sixth to test positive in 2014 from Laurens County, with positive lab confirmation on August 26. There were six animals that tested positive in that county in 2013.