ALBANY — The Albany Police officer who was bitten by a potentially rabid fox will have to continue undergoing rabies treatment as the State Health Laboratory in Waycross was unable to test tissue samples of the animal.
Albany Police Officer Richard Taylor, who bitten Sunday when responding to a call about a potentially rabid fox seen at a residence on West Doublegate Drive, has been advised by the Dougherty County Health Department to continue receiving prophylaxis treatment for rabies, according to Carolyn Maschke, public information officer for southwest Georgia Health District 8.
Maschke said that because Taylor shot the fox in the head after being attacked, the state lab was unable to test the sample provided by environmental control, since rabies tests are conducted using the brain tissue of deceased animals.
“Since he unfortunately shot the animal in the head, the tissue sample (was) compromised,” Maschke said. “The officer has been advised to continue prophylaxis treatment.”
Maschke said that while Public Health attempts to have tests run whenever a potential rabies bite occurs, it isn’t always possible and advises anyone receiving a bite to seek treatment.
Part of the problem, according to Maschke, is that it isn’t always evident that an animal has rabies and not some other type of issue that might be less harmful to humans, such as canine distemper.
“You can’t always tell in most cases by looking at the animal it’s rabies or distemper,” Maschke said. “Just because animals are out in daylight and acting oddly, it’s not always the case that they have rabies.”
Regardless of whether it is readily apparent that an animal has rabies, if the behavior of the animal is overly aggressive and a tissue sample can be retrieved, it will be sent for testing.
She also said county health departments keep statistics on potential rabies exposures, but often can’t confirm how many exposures result in confirmation that an animal had the disease.
For example, in 2013 there were 170 potential exposure cases between animals and humans in Dougherty County. Out of that number, only 35 of those exposed were advised to undergo rabies treatment. Since many times the animal that exposed the human was not caught or could not be tested, it isn’t possible to tell how many of those advised to get rabies treatment were actually exposed to the disease.
According to Maschke, the most important thing for people to do is be aware of the potential danger of rabies and take necessary precautions to avoid animals that might have the disease.
One precaution that helps curb the spread of rabies in humans and helps stop the spread of the disease in animals is to have pets vaccinated.
In 2013, there were 23 cases of animal to animal exposure, which likely led to the 170 cases of animal to human exposure. Vaccinations would likely have prevented a lot of those exposures, Maschke said.
“Rabies is fatal in animals and humans,” Mashcke said. “We urge everyone to get their pets vaccinated. It really is a preventable disease if people will vaccinate their pets.”
Mashcke added that having pets vaccinated for distemper is also a good idea since that disease can be fatal in animals and the symptoms can mimic those of rabies. Animals with distemper often act oddly and more aggressively, making people think they have rabies.
In addition to vaccinations, public health also urges citizens to be aware of their surroundings when walking or engaging in outside activities, watch out for animals that are exhibiting odd behavior, not approach wild or stray animals, do not feed wild, stray or feral animals and do not handle any animal corpses found in yards.
Anyone who has questions about rabies or thinks they might have been exposed should contact their local health department.