MITCHELL CO., GA (WALB) - Tests have confirmed a Mitchell County family who adopted stray puppies earlier this month unknowingly rescued an animal infected with rabies, prompting the Mitchell County Health Department to urge residents to take precautions around wildlife and strays.
The Health Department said family members who played with the infected puppy learned they had been exposed to the rabies virus after it died, and test results came back positive for the rabies virus.
Southwest Health District Environmental Health Director Dewayne Tanner said that it is not unusual to see positive rabies cases occasionally in Mitchell County or elsewhere in the 14-county Southwest Health District.
"Wild animals living in our area that are known to harbor the disease include raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, bobcats and coyotes," he said. "When they come into contact with strays or unvaccinated pets, they can pass the infection."
Tanner said the best protection against rabies is to vaccinate pets.
"People interested in adopting animals should go through reputable organizations or individuals and should ask for vaccination records," he added, noting that district environmental health specialists have had to investigate rabies exposures related to pets acquired through on-line services.
Tanner also offered another recommendation to avoid rabies exposure: "Please avoid interacting with wild animals or strays, especially if they are showing odd behavior – such as being out during daytime or acting aggressively."
Anyone bitten by wild animals or strays should seek immediate medical attention and contact the Mitchell County Health Department and law enforcement, he said. "You should not attempt to catch the animal yourself. The authorities will handle that so that it can be tested for rabies."
Rabies is fatal in humans if untreated, but almost 100% preventable in humans when prompt action is taken, Dixon said.
Georgia law requires dogs and cats three months old and older to be vaccinated against rabies. Pet ferrets should also receive rabies inoculations, as should valuable livestock, Tanner said.
For more information about rabies, contact the Mitchell County Health Department at 229-366-2055 or go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org.