Two people have started post-exposure treatment for possible rabies exposure in the Hilton Head area of Beaufort County by a raccoon that tested positive for the disease, the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reported today.

Raccoon image/CDC
Raccoon image/CDC

The victims were potentially exposed from the result of an altercation between the raccoon and the victims’ dog. The exposure occurred on May 10, 2016, and the raccoon was submitted to DHEC’s laboratory for testing the next day. The raccoon was confirmed to have rabies on May 11.

The dog will undergo a 45-day quarantine as it is current on its rabies vaccination. If the dog had not been current on its rabies vaccination, a longer quarantine would have been required.

“It’s important to use caution around any wild animal–dead or alive,” said Sandra Craig of DHEC’s Bureau of Environmental Health Services (BEHS). “Please keep this in mind if you find yourself in a situation where you have the potential to be exposed to the saliva or neural tissue, such as the brain or spinal cord, from any animal. Be sure to never handle a wild or stray animal with your bare hands.

“Once symptoms of rabies are present in an animal, it is impossible to tell by appearance if an animal has rabies or some other condition that causes similar signs of illness, such as distemper or lead poisoning. The only way to determine if the animal has rabies is to have the brain tested in a laboratory,” Craig said.

Every year several hundred South Carolinians must undergo preventive treatment for rabies after potentially being exposed to the rabies virus. In addition to being cautious around wild or stray animals, keeping your pets up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations is one of the easiest and most effective ways you can protect your family and pet from this fatal disease.

The raccoon from Beaufort County is the ninth animal from that county to test positive for rabies in 2016. There have been 36 confirmed cases of rabies statewide this year.