LAURENS COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Four people in the Gray Court area of Laurens County are facing the possibility of preventative rabies treatment after coming in contact with a stray kitten that tested positive for the virus, according to the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control.
It is at least the third time since Aug. 12 that a rabid animal potentially exposed someone or a group of people in South Carolina to the disease.
On Aug. 12, DHEC reported a raccoon had potentially exposed one person to rabies in the Hilton Head area. On Aug. 14, DHEC said four people in the Summerville area were being treated for a possible exposure from a fox.
"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," Sandra Craig, of DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health Services, said. "Wild animals are most often found to be rabid, but domestic pets can contract rabies as well.
Anyone bitten or scratched by an animal that could have rabies should take the preventative treatment, consisting of a series of shots administered over a 14-day period, according to DHEC's website. The shots are given in a muscle, usually in the upper arm. They are extremely effective at preventing rabies if given as soon as possible after a bite/exposure.
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.
Dogs, cats, puppies and kittens are susceptible, which is why DHEC officials urge pet owners to be vigilant with their animals.
"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," Craig said.
Stray animals should be approached with caution, as they are less likely to have been vaccinated.
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.
Since 1990, an average of only one or two people in the U.S. die from rabies, DHEC says, and the agency credits that low number to pet vaccination campaigns and highly effective human rabies vaccinations for those who come into contact with a rabid animal.
For more information about rabies, visit DHEC's site: http://www.scdhec.gov/rabies/