DALTON (GA) JUNE 20, 2012 - According to Raymond King, Director of Environmental Health for the North Georgia Health District, a horse located in a pasture immediately adjacent to the Dalton Municipal Airport in Whitfield County, Georgia has been diagnosed with rabies by the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, and now a total of six local persons who had recent contact with the saliva or mucus of the horse are receiving post-exposure rabies treatments through area hospitals.
The horse started to show possible symptoms on June 9th and was examined by a number of persons and veterinarians that week before being taken to the University of Georgia Veterinary College for further examination and testing.
It is not known how the horse became infected with rabies but public health officials say that it was most likely from a rabid wild animal such as a raccoon, fox, skunk, bat, coyote or bobcat. The rabies virus is always present to some extent in such wild animal populations. Horses and cattle in the same pasture with the horse are being given rabies vaccine and are being observed for the next six months.
Rabies is an almost invariably fatal acute viral brain infection that is spread by the virus-laden saliva of a rabid animal through a bite or scratch. Infections occur very rarely through contact with saliva with a fresh break in the skin or with intact mucous membranes. Airborne spread has been demonstrated in a cave where bats were roosting and in a laboratory setting, but again this method of infection is extremely rare.
In the United States human deaths from rabies are uncommon, only about one or two a year and the majority of these deaths have been associated with exposure to bats.
Any contact with a bat or even finding a bat in your bedroom in the morning should be considered rabies exposure. In wild animals, more than 80 percent of all positive laboratory cases in Georgia and the U.S. are from raccoons. All mammals are susceptible to rabies but to varying degrees. Mammals such a rodents, opossums and rabbits almost never become infected or spread the disease.
Pet and livestock owners are reminded that rabies vaccinations are available from your veterinarian and are easy, safe and effective. Your vaccinated pet is a barrier between rabies in wild animals and your family.
Teach your children never to pet any wild mammal or stray dog or cat, and to report any bite or scratch to you. Rabid wild animals often appear to be tame or sick. Any bite from a mammal should be washed with soap and rinsed for several minutes with clean water followed by immediate medical attention.
For more information regarding rabies, contact the Whitfield County Environmental Health office at (706) 272-2005 or log onto the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/rabies.