A series of unrelated rabies incidents across North Georgia has public health officials recommending citizens call in any reports of strange animal activity or animal bites in an attempt to avoid further spread of the potentially fatal disease.
Pets exposed to rabies in Whitfield, Gilmer and Cherokee counties resulted in 12 people undergoing post-exposure rabies treatment in early July. The disease, which afflicts the central nervous system, is treatable, but fatal if left unchecked in humans or animals.
"It's unusual that this many people would have gotten infected in this way in such a close period of time," said Jennifer King, public information officer for the health district that covers Whitfield, Gilmer and Cherokee counties as well as Fannin, Murray and Pickens counties.
The pets involved were all too young to receive a rabies vaccine and were exposed to wild animals infected with the disease, King said. Dogs and cats have to be at least a few months old to receive a rabies vaccine.
To report animal attacks or unusual behavior, call:
Catoosa County Environmental Health Office: 706-406-2030
Walker County Environmental Health Office: 706-639-2574
While there is no rabies "season," King said the warm summer months mean people are outdoors more, increasing their chances of encountering a rabid animal.
Symptoms don't have to mean foaming at the mouth, King explained. Even something as innocuous as a nocturnal animal, such a fox, raccoon or skunk, approaching humans during the day can be a sign of a rabies infection.
Whitfield Department of Environmental Health Manager Chad Mulkey said his county has seen a definite upward trend in rabies cases.
"We've got more positive results in the last year than I've seen in the last 15 years combined," Mulkey said. "We're not sure why yet, although it's probably not any single cause."
Clay Tracy, the county manager for Walker County's Department of Environmental Health, said the health district that Catoosa, Walker and Dade counties are all governed by hasn't gotten a single bite report all year.
Despite the lack of rabies cases reported there thus far, Tracy cautioned residents to be on the lookout for animals behaving strangely.
King said the biggest thing citizens can do to stay safe is ensure their pets receive the rabies vaccination. Many rabies cases are from family pets or domestic animals being exposed to a rabid animal and then bringing the infection to their owners, she explained.
"Any animal that scratches, bites or attacks you or a pet should definitely be reported," King said.
Contacting the local department for public health or animal control is recommended.
Email Shane Foley at firstname.lastname@example.org.