HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - One person is taking preventative treatment for rabies after being exposed to a raccoon that tested positive for the virus in the Hilton Head area, according to the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control.
This is third animal to test positive in Beaufort County this year. There have been 80 confirmed cases of rabies in animals this year statewide.
Rabies is a deadly animal virus that attacks the nerves in the spinal cord and brain and can be passed to a healthy animal or a person if saliva from an animal with late-stage rabies gets into a wound or cut, according to DHEC's website.
DHEC recommends people avoid wild animals acting tame and tame animals acting wild to avoid the risk of getting 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. Wild animals contract the disease most often, but domestic pets can contract rabies as well," Sandra Craig, of DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health Services, said in a written statement.
In South Carolina, rabies is most often found in raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats. It is also common in coyotes. Rabies is almost never seen in squirrels, opossums, mice, rabbits and chipmunks, according to DHEC.
"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.
DHEC says very few Americans die from rabies -- on average, only one or two per year since 1990.
Preventative treatment for a possible rabies infection involves a series of shots over a two-week period to stop the virus from infecting the body. Without treatment, DHEC says, anyone exposed to rabies will almost certainly die because there is no cure once symptoms develop.
More information on rabies is available at DHEC's site: http://www.scdhec.gov/rabies/