DHEC Supports World Rabies Day 2023: ‘All for 1, One Health for All’
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Sept. 28, 2023
COLUMBIA, S.C. — For 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. This year, DHEC continues to support the alliance’s goals to achieve zero human deaths from rabies worldwide by 2030 by promoting this year’s theme: “All for 1, One Health for all!” This theme aligns with DHEC’s mission to improve the quality of life for all South Carolinians by protecting and promoting the health of the public and the environment.
While any mammal can transmit rabies, the animals most-commonly infected with the rabies virus in South Carolina are raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes, cats and dogs. Since 2002, South Carolina has averaged approximately 148 positive cases in animals per year; there have been 66 cases so far this year.
Human rabies is almost always fatal, however, it is preventable in people when the rabies vaccine series is provided promptly to someone who has been potentially exposed. Because of effective rabies control efforts, human rabies is rare in the United States with an average of one to three cases occurring each year. The last case of human rabies occurred in South Carolina in 2011. South Carolinians can join the effort to eliminate rabies by ensuring their pets receive their rabies vaccines and avoiding exposure to wild animals. For help with wildlife contact a wildlife control operator. Contact local animal control for help with pets.
“Keeping your pets current on their rabies vaccination is a responsibility that comes with owning an animal,” said Terri McCollister, DHEC's Rabies Program Director. “It is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways you can protect yourself, your family and your pets from this fatal disease. Rabies is spread when saliva or nerve tissue from an infected animal contacts open wounds or areas such as the eyes, nose or mouth of a person or pet.”
Pet owners can contact their local veterinarian’s office or visit one of several low-cost rabies vaccine clinics available around the state. The Global Alliance for Rabies website also provides World Rabies Day Events taking place on Sept. 28, including in South Carolina.
The South Carolina Rabies Control Act requires all pet owners to keep their dogs, cats and ferrets current on rabies vaccinations. Additionally, all mammal bites, scratches and exposures must be reported to a DHEC Public Health Rabies Program Office so that 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."
DHEC and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources strongly advise against keeping wild animals as pets.
Additionally, if a person, pet or livestock has had potential contact with a bat, avoid releasing the bat if possible. These bats should be safely trapped in a sealed container and not touched. Once a bat is released, it can’t be tested for rabies. 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. Never handle a bat or any wild or stray animal, alive or dead, with bare hands. Bat contact or exposure is defined as:
• Waking up to find a bat in your room, tent or living spaces;
• Finding a bat where children, pets or persons with impaired mental capacity (intoxicated or a person with an intellectual disability) have been left unattended; and/or
• A pet or person that has been in direct contact with a bat.
To report a mammal bite or possible exposure to rabies, contact your local DHEC Public Health Rabies Program Office during normal business hours (M-F, 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 nerve 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).