Health officials warn Albany area residents to take steps to avoid animal bites

Raccoons, along with bats, skunks and foxes, are among the most prevalent carriers of rabies in Georgia.

ALBANY — Raccoons, skunks and foxes, oh my! Those three animals common to Georgia are among the top animals reported for rabies, but the title holder is the nocturnal bat.

A recent increase in the number of residents being bitten by wild and stray animals has prompted the Southwest Georgia Public Health District to issue a warning about approaching, handling and feeding animals that could transmit the rabies virus.

“Before handling an animal, think twice and avoid getting bit,” the Albany-based health district said in a Wednesday news release. “Animal bites are painful and may expose a person to the rabies virus and other infections.”

With more people active outdoors as weather warms, the chances of encountering wild and stray animals increases.

People — and pets — can become infected with the viral disease through saliva transmitted during a bite from an infected animal.

“The rabies virus travels from the site of the bite up through the nerves until it reaches the brain, causing encephalopathy and ultimately death,” the health district said. To avoid potential exposure to rabies, the health officials recommend:

— Do not approach, handle or feed wild or stray animals;

— Vaccinate family pets against rabies annually;

— Teach children not to approach or play with wild or stray domestic animals of any kind;

— Do not leave pets or children unattended outside or allow them to roam free.

If bitten by an animal, officials say to:

— Thoroughly clean the wound immediately with soap and water to reduce the likelihood of rabies transmission;

— Call your doctor or local health department as soon as possible for advice. An individual or doctor can consult with the Georgia Poison Center at 1 (800) 282-5846 to determine whether post-exposure treatment is recommended for the bite. A doctor also can notify the bite victim if a tetanus booster or antibiotics are needed. Be prepared to provide information about the type of animal, any symptoms the animal exhibited, whether the attack was provoked or unprovoked, type and number of exposures, animal’s vaccination status if a pet and whether the animal is available for testing or quarantine.

— Under certain circumstances, a domestic animal may be placed under quarantine and observed for 10 days following the bite to see if it develops symptoms of rabies. Cats, dogs, and ferrets will become ill and expire within days of exposure.

— If it is deemed necessary to euthanize the animal, it is important to preserve the head/brain for testing.

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