World Rabies Day: DHEC Supports Global Initiative to Reach Zero Human Rabies Deaths by 2030
Keeping pets current on rabies vaccinations, avoiding interactions with wildlife are key
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Sept. 28, 2022
COLUMBIA, S.C. ― In observance of World Rabies Day on Sept. 28, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reminds South Carolinians of the steps they can take to protect people and pets against one of the world’s most-fatal diseases. Recognized annually by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, World Rabies Day aims to raise awareness about rabies prevention, and this year, a new goal is in place: Achieve zero human deaths from rabies worldwide by 2030.
While any mammal can transmit rabies, the most common animals infected with the rabies virus in South Carolina are raccoons, bats, skunks, cats, and dogs. Since 2002, South Carolina has averaged approximately 148 positive cases a year; there have been 55 cases so far this year. In 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported five human deaths nationwide due to rabies, with four of those five deaths resulting from an exposure to a bat. South Carolina has had only one human death due to rabies in recent years, in 2011, also from a bat.
Rabies is 100-percent preventable in people when someone who has been exposed quickly receives medical treatment. However, the CDC reports almost 59,000 human rabies deaths each year worldwide, primarily from dog exposures. South Carolinians can join the effort to eliminate rabies by ensuring their pets receive their rabies shots.
“Keeping your pets current on their rabies vaccination is a responsibility that comes with owning an animal,” said Terri McCollister, DHEC's Rabies Program Team Leader. “It is one of the easiest and most-effective ways you can protect yourself, your family, and pets from this fatal disease. Rabies is spread when saliva or neural tissue contacts open wounds or areas such as the eyes, nose, or mouth of a person or pet.”
Several low-cost rabies vaccine clinics are currently available around the state, and pet owners can also contact their local veterinarian’s office. The Rabies Alliance website provides World Rabies Day vaccination events taking place on Sept. 28, including in Clemson, Westminster, and Conway in South Carolina.
The South Carolina Rabies Control Act requires all pet owners to keep their dogs, cats, and ferrets up-to-date on rabies vaccinations. Additionally, all animal bites, scratches, and exposures must be reported to a DHEC Environmental Affairs Office so the necessary steps are taken to protect people’s health and help limit spread of the rabies virus.
“To reduce the risk of getting rabies, always give wild and stray animals their space,” McCollister said. “If you see an animal in need, avoid touching it and contact someone trained in handling animals such as your local animal control officer or wildlife rehabilitator."
Both DHEC and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources strongly advise against keeping wildlife animals as pets.
Never release a bat that had potential contact with a person, pet, or livestock. Bites from bats are small and can go undetected on a person or animal, so it’s important for a bat to get tested for rabies. Bats should be safely trapped in a sealed container and not touched. Once a bat is released, it can’t be tested for rabies. Never handle a bat or any wild or stray animal ― alive or dead ―with bare hands. Contact or exposure to a bat is defined as:
• Waking up to find a bat in your room;
• Finding a bat where children, pets, or persons with impaired mental capacity (intoxicated or mentally disabled) have been left unattended; or
• A pet or person that has been in direct contact with a bat.
To report an animal bite or possible exposure to rabies, contact your local DHEC Environmental Affairs Office during normal business hours (Mon-Fri., 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.). Be sure to immediately wash any part of the body that may have come into contact with saliva or neural tissue with plenty of soap and water and seek medical attention. To report a bite or exposure on holidays or times outside of normal business hours, please call the DHEC after-hours service number (888) 847-0902 (Select Option 2).