Rabies on rise in Jackson County

Rabies on rise in Jackson County

August 9th, 2014 by Ben Benton in Local Regional News


Any mammal can get rabies. The most common wild carriers are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes. Among domestic mammals, cats, cattle and dogs are the most frequently infected.

U.S. and Alabama health officials have confirmed five cases of rabies in Jackson County animals since May.

So far, a fox, a dog and three raccoons have been confirmed as carriers of the deadly disease, and four instances when humans may have been exposed, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture officials and the Jackson County Health Department.

Those local residents had to undergo preventive treatment and there have been no confirmed human cases, said Nancy Webb, environmentalist with the Jackson County Health Department.

The dog that tested positive for rabies was found in Fabius and the fox in the River Ridge community. One raccoon was in Gurley, another in the Dolberry Hollow community and the third in Scottsboro at the Bynum Recreation Park's tennis courts off Jefferson Drive, Webb said.

A longtime local veterinarian said the number of cases and variety of species worries him.

"We're always on the lookout for it," said Dr. Randall A. Smith, who owns the North Jackson Animal Clinic in Stevenson. "We've got three species involved. That's scary to have so many species."

Smith said his first introduction to rabies came when he was a student at Auburn University in the 1970s. At the time a rabies outbreak in Alabama started a 30-year march into Northwest Georgia. Even in recent year, authorities have targeted the disease using air-dropped vaccine bait for wild animals, he said.

He said domestic animals are at risk.

"Pet owners should be vaccinating," Smith said. Alabama law now allows pets to receive a three-year vaccine and tag.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.