When any animal is found in the area infected with the rabies virus, the need for pet owners to keep their four-legged friends up to date on their vaccinations becomes reinforced.
Four raccoons have tested positive for rabies in Columbia County this year, said Joe Guerin, a supervisor for the county's Animal Care and Control.
The most recent incident occurred two weeks ago when a raccoon was found dead in the yard of a West Lake residence.
Guerin said his office usually sees between two to four rabies cases each year.
According to the county's health department, eight rabies cases were confirmed last year, which is high for the area, Guerin said.
"It's because we've got so much wildlife around us now," he added.
"We've built into their areas, and they're still living there."
Transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, rabies enters the host's central nervous system.
The viral infection can affect any mammal, which includes humans and common domestic animals.
Animals in the wild, such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats and coyotes, present the greatest rabies threat to humans and their pets.
"It can be carried with them (wild animals) and never kill them," said Dr. Edward Gross, veterinarian at Care More Animal Hospital in Evans.
"It can be carried without ever showing disease."
Animals such as squirrels, rabbits and other rodents usually die from the virus before they can pass it on, Gross said.
Georgia's law requires domestic dogs, cats and ferrets to receive a rabies vaccination when they reach six months of age, said Gross. Many veterinarians recommend giving the shot to a pet when it turns 12 weeks old, he said.
"Rabies is 100 percent fatal," said Andrea Frazier, an environmental health specialist with the county's health department.
"The biggest problem is if these rabid animals come in contact with unvaccinated pets. There would not be the problem if people would get their dogs and cats vaccinated."
Pet owners can choose from two types of rabies shots for their pets. One vaccine guards against rabies for one year; the other protects an animal for three years, Guerin said.
The only real way to shield an animal from rabies is through up-to-date vaccinations, said Frazier.
Rabies can be transmitted through bites, scratches, open cuts and, less commonly, through pet dishes placed outside, Guerin said.
"We tell people when they put their cat bowls or dog bowls out with water and food not to keep them out there because an animal can pass it through saliva," he said.
There are many signs of infection in an animal.
For instance, animals might become more aggressive or lethargic, stop drinking water or experience a loss of appetite or a change of personality.
Though many people associate foaming mouths with wild animals, Guerin said that symptom is not the one most commonly seen.
Frazier noted that many animals also experience leg paralysis in which they drag one leg.
If a vaccinated animal comes into contact with a rabid animal, a booster shot and close observation is necessary.
Gross said that many animal clinics offer discounts for rabies vaccinations, and most veterinarians charge $15 for a three-year vaccine.
"There's very little chance of any kind of problems associated with the vaccine," he said.
"It's readily available. It's inexpensive. There's just not a reason for not doing it."
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