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Local animal hospital provides info for pet owners after Rabies positive skunk and raccoon found in Macon County

Macon County has identified a rabies-positive skunk and raccoon. Both animals were identified as a part of regular surveillance for rabies in the county. No human or animal had known exposure to either of these animals. The animals were found in the Smithbridge and Union Townships of the county.

While rabies is endemic to bats, skunks, and raccoons in North Carolina, the best prevention is the rabies vaccination. In light of recent rabies-positive animals, Macon County Animal Services will be hosting a low-cost rabies vaccination clinic to be held in the near future. More details will follow when the schedule is confirmed. Until then, Macon County residents are encouraged to contact their vet to ensure that their animals are up-to-date on all vaccinations, and by leaving wildlife alone.

Dawn Todd at Noah’s Ark Animal Hospital offered advice to residents on how to best protect their pets.

“The first and highest concern should be preventing a pet from contracting rabies if they encounter a rabid wild animal. Like in humans, rabies is 100% fatal if contracted,” said Todd. “Thankfully, rabies vaccines are highly effective in preventing pets from developing rabies should they be exposed. There is accumulating evidence that rabies vaccination protects pets against contracting rabies far longer than three years. There’s evidence that two rabies vaccines protect most pets from contracting rabies for life. Pets must receive at least TWO rabies vaccinations to be fully protected. The second consideration is complying with the laws of the state you live in. Most states require that pets receive rabies vaccination in their first year of life, a second rabies vaccine a year later, and then a booster every three years. Failure to comply can come with serious consequences and fines.”

Macon County Animal Services Section Administrator, Dr. Villiard, said of the incident, “While rabies is endemic is skunks, raccoons and bats in North Carolina, the recent increase in the number of detected cases in Macon County does raise concern for our pets. We are actively coordinating with our local veterinarians to schedule low-cost rabies vaccine clinics, to make sure that the pets of Macon County are protected.”

Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system in humans and other mammals. A person may contract rabies through a bite, scratch, or saliva from an infected animal. Potential rabies exposure should never be taken lightly; left untreated, rabies is fatal. Animals do not have to be aggressive or behaving erratically to have the rabies virus. Changes in any animal’s normal behavior can be early signs of rabies. Any exposure to these animals should be reported to Macon County Animal Services so that the animal can be located and tested for rabies.

According to Todd, rabies is very common throughout WNC.

“No, rabies is widespread and in western NC. the state lab finds rabies in wild animals every year,” said Todd. “You can see extensive data here:https://epi.dph.ncdhhs.gov/cd/rabies/figures.html#slph”

Macon County pet owners should also be sure to check their pet’s last rabies vaccination is up-to-date, to prevent a possible rabies infection.

In addition to keeping your pets vaccinated, pet owners should keep cats and ferrets indoors and keep dogs under direct supervision, by spaying or neutering their pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly, and call animal control to
remove all stray animals from their neighborhood since these animals may be unvaccinated or ill.

Everyday citizens should also be sure to prevent rabies in themselves by leaving wildlife alone, wash animal bites and scratches with soap and water, vaccinating pets, and contact your healthcare provider immediately after you are bitten, scratched, or otherwise exposed to an animal who may be positive for rabies. Rabies in people is preventable through prompt medical care.

“We frequently encounter clients who believe that there’s no need to vaccinate pets who never go outdoors, particularly cats,” said Todd. “However, nearly every year a client calls us after they’ve found a dead bat in their home. Bats have historically been the most common exposure point for rabies with domestic pets. If a bat is flopping around on the sidewalk, or in your kitchen, it’s an irresistible target for cats to pounce on. It’s very easy for the struggling bat to get a bite in, even if they’re ultimately killed. Several years ago we had to quarantine a cat whose owner had never had the cat vaccinated, believing that there was no reason to vaccinate indoor cats. Their child reached into his toy box and came out with a bat attached to his hand. The bat was sent for autopsy, and was positive for rabies.”

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