Over the past nine months, five Walker County animals tested positively for rabies at the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, in Atlanta, Walker County animal shelter director Curtis Patterson said. Of those cases, one animal attacked a human and another attacked two dogs.
Every year animals need to be inoculated because the more shots they have, the more it builds up their immunity to rabies," animal shelter secretary Rita Wiley said. "There are currently two cats and a bat being sent off to test for rabies, and the phone has been ringing off the hook (with more reports of suspected cases)."
"Six animals have been sent off to the CDC (for testing) in the last 12 days, but no word (of the test results) has been sent yet," Patterson said.
Rabies is usually transmitted through a bite, and bats often spread the disease, Patterson said. The infection starts in the muscles and then works its way through the nervous system and into the brain. If untreated, rabies is fatal.
"The best way to tell if a wild or domestic animal has rabies is if it is acting very strange or unusual," Patterson said. "If you see a nocturnal animal, such as a skunk or raccoon, during the daytime and it is acting aggressive, (the animal may be rabid.)"
Patterson said potential rabies carriers generally include bats, raccoons, foxes, skunks, coyotes, cattle and goats. The animals least likely to carry rabies are squirrels, possums, rats and mice.
"The raccoon is ranked No. 1 for the most cases of rabies in Georgia, but the skunk can carry the worst form of rabies," Patterson said.
Until recent years, Walker County did not have documented rabies cases, and the virus was concentrated in south Georgia, he said.
"Rabies spread south and worked its way north," Patterson said. Many Walker residents do not know the area's large coyote population comprises a lot of potential carriers.
"It is a state and county law that animals be inoculated every year for rabies," he said. Patterson is checking vaccination records. Pet owners who have not vaccinated their pets receive a citation and must appear in Walker Magistrate Court.
Anyone who adopts an animal at the Walker shelter must pay $4 for a rabies vaccination and will receive a ticket for proof of purchase that must then taken to a local veterinarian for the vaccination.
"This rabies shot price is a very good deal," Wiley said.
"Vets usually charge $10 for a rabies shot, but sometimes people who adopt animals pay even though they do not actually get the shot."
Licensed veterinarians must administer the rabies vaccine, Patterson said.
"On every call we cannot guarantee that the animal will be tested because to be tested an animal must bite another animal or person," Patterson said.
Patterson works with the CDC and Atlanta environmental health officials to determine whether pets that may have been exposed to rabies are quarantined for observation, he said. Wild animals or pets clearly exhibiting the advanced signs of rabies are euthanized, and the brain is sent for testing at the CDC.
"We do not know if an animal has rabies unless the CDC confirms it," he said.
"Typically, if the animal is tested positive, the shelter knows by phone within 24 hours," Wiley said, "but if the test is negative, the shelter may not find out for two weeks, and the test results are sent in writing."
Whenever someone reports a suspected rabies case involving a domestic pet, Patterson said he first asks for proof of vaccination.
To report a potential rabies case, call the Walker County animal shelter at (706) 375-2100