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Rabies reported in Georgia: What to do if you are exposed

Do you know how to prevent rabies or what to do in the event of exposure?
Do you know how to prevent rabies or what to do in the event of exposure?
Radell Smith

According to authorities at Henry County Animal Control, they have had three reports of rabies in less than two weeks, and normally they might only see about six rabies cases in an entire year, according to an April 23 report from WSBTV.

Based upon the Henry County Animal Care and Control Rabies Alert, a dog fought and killed a raccoon on April 2 on Carver Road in McDonough, Ga, and that raccoon was deemed to be infected with rabies when authorities tested it at the Georgia Public Health Laboratory. On April 11, another dog fought and killed an infected raccoon on Williamsburg Circle in McDonough. And on April 21, in the 1200 block of Crumbly Road in McDonough, another dog fought and killed an infected raccoon, bringing the total up to three cases of rabies in the span of 10 days for Henry County.

Authorities are warning residents in the area to be on their guard regarding any unusual behavior by their pets or wildlife in the area. For example, animals that are having problems walking, that act very mean or that drool could have rabies.

Henry County Animal Control officials are also advising residents get their pets vaccinated against the rabies virus now if that has not been done yet, and to make sure vaccinations are up-to-date, if they have had pets immunized in the past. Stray animals like cats and dogs, as well as ferrets, ground hogs, foxes, bats and raccoons can present a rabies danger if infected.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that a person merely exposed to an animal with rabies is not necessarily at risk for getting the virus, as it can only be spread through saliva, like when an animal bites you or scratches you, or through the infected animal's brain or nervous system tissue. Surprisingly, the rabies virus becomes noninfectious once it dries out or is exposed to sunlight. And even touching the blood, feces or urine of an exposed animal is purportedly not a cause for alarm, if you wash away the material with soap and water immediately.

But if you are bitten by a rabid animal, you need to see a doctor right away. And even if you are not, it is better to err on the side of caution, letting your medical practitioner decide whether you need to be vaccinated or not after an exposure to a rabid animal. People die from this disease if it is left untreated. And with thousands of animals diagnosed with rabies each year in Georgia, you don't want to take any chances.

Children unable to communicate with an adult that they have been bitten by an animal, like very young children or those with a communication disability, would likely show one or more of the following signs if the animal was infected with rabies, beginning with the mildest symptoms first: physical weakness, fever, headache, itching at the bite site, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, agitation, abnormal behavior, hallucination and delirium.

Unfortunately, once an infected person begins to show the signs of the rabies virus in their system, survival is rare the CDC reports. In fact, only 10 such survival cases are recorded. And that makes it imperative that you go to see your health care professional immediately after such an exposure, and that you wash the infected area immediately after attack with soap and water.

If your doctor determines your exposure to rabies warrants it, you will be given a postexposure prophylexis (PEP). The PEP consists of one dose of immune globulin and a four-dose regimen of rabies vaccine, which is administered in part over a 14-day period.

So if you or your loved one or child are bitten by a rabid animal, the immune globulin and the first of the four vaccines should be given by your doctor as soon after the incident as possible in order to prevent the symptoms that could lead to death. The second dose of the vaccine will be administered on day three, and the third dose on day seven, leaving the final dose to be administered on the fourteenth day after exposure.