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Sept. 27, 2012

World Rabies Day highlights importance of prevention

COLUMBIA, S.C. - The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control joins with other health agencies around the world on Sept. 28 in an effort to wipe out rabies, the agency announced today.

"Rabies is deadly for the animals that contract it, and it can be deadly for the people who come in contact with those animals," said Sue Ferguson of DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health. "Each year in our state, about 275 people are advised to undergo preventive medical treatment after being exposed to rabid animals."

World Rabies Day aims to promote rabies prevention and control through awareness of the serious impact of human and animal rabies, how easy it is to prevent, and how to eliminate the main global sources of the disease. Rabies in humans is 100% preventable through prompt and appropriate medical care.

The rabies virus travels slowly through the body until it reaches the brain and central nervous system and produces serious initial symptoms including headache, difficulty swallowing, seizures, anxiety, agitation and confusion. Most patients die within a few weeks after the onset of these symptoms.

This year's World Rabies Day has particular significance in S.C. as the first human death from rabies in 53 years occurred when a Sumter County woman died in December 2011 from an undocumented exposure to a bat in her home. Most cases of human rabies that occur in the U.S. are the result of an unrecognized or undocumented exposure to a rabid bat.

"Bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes are the most likely wild animals to contract the disease and come in contact with humans," Ferguson said. "But domestic pets like cats, dogs, and ferrets and other domestic animals such as horses and cows can carry the disease, too. So far this year, we've seen 114 cases in animals, requiring 263 people to undergo preventive medical treatment.

"South Carolina law requires you to vaccinate your dog, cat or ferret against rabies by a licensed veterinarian," Ferguson said. "If you are bitten or scratched by a wild or domestic animal, clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Then be sure to get medical attention and report the incident to your local DHEC office."

To learn more about rabies in South Carolina and ways to prevent it, visit /Health/DiseasesandConditions/InfectiousDiseases/InsectAnimalBorne/Rabies/. Additional information on World Rabies Day is available at


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