Free rabies shots for Fairfield cats & dogs

WINNSBORO – After 2-1/2 relatively quiet years, the number of animals testing positive for rabies is on the rise in Fairfield County.

No cases were reported in 2017 or 2018, nor were there any through the first nine months of 2019.

In October, however, Fairfield County fielded two separate reports of rabid skunks within two weeks of each other. One occurred Oct. 17 in the Camp Welfare area; the other originated Oct. 30 in the White Oak community.

And in one of those cases, a pet dog was exposed to the disease, requiring it to be quarantined for 180 days, said Bob Innes, director of the Fairfield Animal Control and Adoption Center.

“It just shows people need to be wary,” Innes said. “People just need to be diligent and have the current vaccine.”

Hoping to curb the spread of rabies, the Fairfield animal shelter will offer free rabies vaccines at its facility Saturday, Dec. 7 from 10 a.m. to noon.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control also offers rabies clinics five days a week in the Midlands. But those vaccines cost $9 and the closest location is in Columbia, according to the DHEC website.

The free Fairfield County vaccines will be first come, first served and are open only to Fairfield County residents. State law requires pet owners to keep rabies vaccinations current.

“Now’s the time to take advantage of a free rabies shot,” Innes said. “Make sure that your animals have the vaccine.”

Rabies cases have also risen sharply elsewhere in surrounding counties.

Chester reported two rabid animals in 2019 after no reports in 2017 or 2018.

Richland County rose from four last year to seven this year. Newberry has five this year, up from two in 2018.

Lexington County has seen the biggest spike this year, with 14 rabid animals compared to seven last year and three the year before.

Kershaw has been the exception, with rabies reports declining in recent years.

DHEC spokeswoman Laura Renwick said the agency has noticed an increase in rabies cases, but noted 2017 and 2018 incidents in the Midlands reached 10-year lows.

She said there’s really no explanation for the spike in 2019, noting there could be several reasons for the increase.

“The reason for these fluctuations can involve multiple factors including changes in land use and changes in wildlife populations,” Renwick said. “This is why keeping pets up to date on their rabies vaccinations is so important.”

The most common sign is a wild animal that’s acting tame. Rabid animals may also appear drunk, disoriented or wobbly and may seem partially paralyzed, according to DHEC.

DHEC also notes that animals exhibiting the signature foaming of the mouth are likely in the latter stages of the disease before death. Raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats are the most common carriers of rabies, though any mammal can contract the disease.

Rabies is also always fatal in humans when exposed persons aren’t treated immediately.

“If you are ever bitten or scratched by an animal that could possibly have rabies, you will need to get a series of shots (vaccines) over a two-week period to stop the rabies virus from infecting your body,” the DHEC website states. “Without this treatment, anyone who is exposed to rabies will almost certainly die. There is no cure for rabies once symptoms develop.”

Innes said in addition to vaccinating your pets, keeping a close watch on your pets is vital. In the two Fairfield cases reported this year, the rabid skunks attacked an owner’s pet, he said.

“If your dog or cat is in the yard and gets bitten by something, then there’s going to be problems,” Innes said.

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