Prevention is better than the cure when it comes to stopping rabies infections in humans and their pets.
The viral disease, which attacks the central nervous system in mammals and other warm-blooded animals, is usually fatal without treatment.
Infected animals can foam at the mouth and appear disoriented and uncoordinated. They also might experience a loss of appetite, weakness, seizures and sudden death.
While only one person has contracted rabies in North Carolina in the last 60 years – in 2011 in Jones County – North Carolina Health and Human Services officials report there were 10 confirmed rabies cases among cats in 2016 and two confirmed cases involving dogs.
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That’s out of 928 cats and 786 dogs tested for rabies in 2016. Local health directors either euthanized or quarantined those animals that were unvaccinated for six months at their owners’ expense.
Humans also pay a steep cost for rabies exposure, which can cause muscle pain, tingling or paralysis, dizziness, fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, depression and hallucinations, among other symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people get post-exposure rabies shots involving multiple medical office visits each year. The cost can run into the thousands of dollars.
Vaccination is a cheaper – and easier – alternative, health experts say.
North Carolina law requires pet owners to have their dogs, cats and ferrets vaccinated against rabies by 4 months of age. Pets then get a booster shot after one year, followed by a lifetime of booster shots every three years.
Dogs are required to wear their rabies vaccination tags at all times, while cats and ferrets may be exempted by local law in some counties.
State law authorizes health directors to confine an animal that has bitten a person for 10 days. If the owners are not found, pets can be euthanized after 72 hours and sent to the state lab for testing. Pets with proof of vaccination receive a booster shot within five days of rabies exposure.
5 fast facts about rabies
▪ Raccoon-variant rabies is the most common type in North Carolina, affecting raccoons, skunks, coyotes, wolves, groundhogs, beavers, and red and gray foxes. It also can infect domestic pets and livestock, such as cows and horses
▪ Experts estimate only 3 percent of bats in North Carolina are infected with rabies, but they can get inside a house and cause small bites or scratches. If you find a bat in your home, isolate it by closing the doors to the room where it’s located, and call animal control.
▪ Keep your pets inside unless supervised to limit their exposure to rabies, and eliminate outdoor food sources for wildlife and feral animals, such as unsecured garbage cans and pet food.
▪ If you are bitten or scratched, clean the wound with soap and running water for 15 minutes, then contact your doctor. Call animal control to catch the animal – be sure to write down the description and location of the animal, including the owner’s name if the animal is a pet.
▪ It’s illegal in North Carolina to keep or try to rehabilitate wildlife that can carry rabies. N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission warns you should never approach, handle, feed or rescue wild animals.