Six people are receiving post-exposure rabies treatments after being exposed to a rabid horse in Whitfield County, North Georgia Health District officials said.
“These are individuals who came into contact with the saliva or mucus of the horse,” said Jennifer King, public information officer for the health district.
King said once a person begins to show symptoms of rabies the disease is almost always fatal so treatment usually begins immediately for those exposed to the disease. But she said human deaths from rabies are rare in the United States, usually one or two a year, and the majority of those have been associated with exposure to bats.
King said the horse, which was pastured near the Dalton Municipal Airport, began to show symptoms on June 9. Officials do not know how the horse became infected but it was likely bitten by a rabid wild animal. Other horses and cattle in the pasture have been given the rabies vaccination and will be closely monitored for the next six months.
This is the second case of rabies confirmed in Whitfield County this year. The first was a raccoon in Dalton in April.
King said any contact with a bat or even finding a bat in a room you are in should be considered rabies exposure.
“In wild animals, more than 80 percent of all positive laboratory cases in Georgia and the United States are from raccoons,” the Health District said in a press release. “All mammals are susceptible to rabies but to varying degrees. Mammals such as rodents, opossums and rabbits almost never become infected or spread the disease.”
Health District officials recommend that pet and livestock owners have their animals vaccinated for rabies.
King said that if someone spots an animal they think may be rabid the person should call 911. Livestock owners who suspect their animals may be rabid should contact a veterinarian.
King said those who are bitten by an animal, particularly if they do not know if that animal has been vaccinated against rabies, should seek medical treatment. She said medical professionals should then contact the appropriate authorities if they believe the patient may have been exposed to rabies.
Rabies is an almost invariably fatal acute viral brain infection that is spread by the virus-laden saliva of a rabid animal through a bite or scratch. Infections occur very rarely through contact with saliva with a fresh break in the skin or with intact mucous membranes. Airborne spread has been demonstrated in a cave where bats were roosting and in a laboratory setting, but ... this method of infection is extremely rare.
Teach your children never to pet any wild mammal or stray dog or cat, and to report any bite or scratch to you. Rabid wild animals often appear to be tame or sick. Any bite from a mammal should be washed with soap and rinsed for several minutes with clean water followed by immediate medical attention.
For more information regarding rabies, call the Whitfield County Environmental Health office at (706) 272-2005 or log on to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/rabies.
Source: North Georgia Health District