COLUMBIA - Sixteen people who were exposed to rabies by a raccoon are under the care of a physician after the raccoon tested positive for the disease, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said today.
"The baby raccoon was found in the woods and was being cared for by several people over the past several weeks," said Sue Ferguson of DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health.
According to Ferguson, many of the exposures occurred when feeding the raccoon, as caretakers came into contact with the animal's saliva. Seven more people are being evaluated for possible exposure risk.
"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 because once the rabies virus reaches the brain the disease is fatal to humans and animals," Ferguson said. "The people who were exposed are receiving preventive inoculations.
"It is best to avoid contact with wild animals because one cannot tell if an animal has rabies by looking at it," Ferguson said. "About 400 South Carolinians must undergo preventive treatment for rabies every year, with most exposures from being bitten or scratched by a rabid or suspected rabid animal.
"Wild animals carry the disease most often, but domestic pets can contract rabies as well, and 20 domestic pets were exposed as well, so we remind residents that the best protection for people and their pets is to make sure pets are regularly vaccinated against the disease, as is required under state law.
"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," she said. "Then be sure to get medical attention and report the incident to DHEC."
This is the first confirmed rabid animal in Beaufort County in 2008.
Last year, no rabid animals were confirmed in the county. In 2007, there were 162 confirmed cases of rabies in animals in South Carolina. So far this year, there have been 45 confirmed cases in animals in the state.
For more information about rabies, see DHEC's Web page at:
http://www.scdhec.gov/rabies or contact DHEC’s Beaufort County Environmental Health office at (843) 757-6441. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web page about rabies can be found