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April 5, 2012

Bat potentially exposes Fairfield County couple to rabies

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Post-exposure treatments have been recommended for a Fairfield County man and woman after they were potentially exposed to rabies by a bat, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported today.

"Two bats were found inside the house and one has tested positive for rabies," said Sue Ferguson of DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health. "Because of the possibility that the man and woman were exposed to the virus while they slept, a physician has recommended preventive inoculations.

"Some situations like this require that you seek medical advice even in the absence of an obvious bite wound," Ferguson said. "If you find a bat in your home, or if you see a bat in the room of an unattended child, or near a mentally impaired or an intoxicated person, you should seek medical advice and have the bat tested."

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the recent human rabies cases in the U.S. have been caused by exposure to rabid bats, including South Carolina's most recent human rabies case last December. A Sumter County woman was the state's first human rabies case in more than 50 years.

Ferguson said once the rabies virus reaches the brain, the disease is fatal to humans and animals. Anyone bitten, scratched or otherwise exposed to the saliva of a rabid animal must undergo immediate measures to stop the virus from reaching the brain.

"To reduce the risk of getting rabies, we recommend that people avoid wild animals acting tame and tame animals acting wild," Ferguson said. "About 275 South Carolinians must undergo preventive treatment for rabies every year, with most exposures coming from bites or scratches by a rabid or suspected rabid animal. Wild animals carry the disease most often, but domestic pets can contract rabies as well.

"To protect both the pets and their owners, residents should vaccinate their pets regularly against the disease. State law requires that all pets be vaccinated against rabies.

"If you think you have been exposed to the rabies virus through a bite, scratch or the saliva of a possibly infected animal, immediately wash the affected area with plenty of soap and water," Ferguson said. "Then be sure to get medical attention and report the incident to DHEC."

While this is the first confirmed rabid animal of the year in Fairfield County, two rabid animals were confirmed there last year. There were 107 confirmed cases of animal rabies during 2011 in South Carolina. There have been 33 confirmed cases in animals statewide this year.

For more information about rabies, see DHEC's webpage at: /Health/DiseasesandConditions/InfectiousDiseases/InsectAnimalBorne/Rabies/ or contact your local DHEC environmental health office. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's webpage about rabies can be found at:


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