“People need to know this and know that rabies is nothing to mess with,” Veterinarian Sonny Springer of The Animal Hospital said. Springer also serves as Walker County’s rabies control officer.
The Shelby County cases have been wild raccoons, which are common carriers of the disease.
“We want people to vaccinate their pets because so many wild animals are coming close to houses and eating pet food,” Springer explained.
Other common rabies carriers are bats and coyotes. Coyotes have recently been invading neighborhoods across the state and attacking, killing and maiming pets because of dwindling food sources and habitats in the wild. Having wild animals that close creates a concern for the pets as well as the owner and family.
Springer explained there are two types of rabies, furious rabies and dumb rabies.
Furious rabies exhibits stereotypical symptoms, such as excessive drooling and salivation, aggressive behavior, high temperature and, eventually, hydrophobia, difficulty swallowing and sensitivity or fear of bright lights.
Dumb rabies is also sometimes called paralytic rabies and is harder to pinpoint symptom-wise. This type is characterized by muscle weakness, in wild animals this may take the form of seeming more friendly or not fleeing from people.
Once an animal or human is infected with the disease, there is no cure. Within a matter of days, rabies patients die, usually from heart or lung failure.
The only way to confirm a rabies diagnosis with 100 percent accuracy is to remove the patient’s head and test a specific section of the brain.
Springer said the most effective protection for family members and pets is to have all pets vaccinated as required by law. Pets can receive a one-year vaccination, which costs approximately $10 or a three-year vaccination that costs approximately $30.
The last documented case of rabies in Walker County was last year when young racoons were brought into the county from the coast and tested positive for the disease. Springer said there was also a case of a bat that tested positive in Walker County a few years back.
If someone is bitten, they should immediately seek care and notify the health department. Any domestic animal that bites must be quarantined by a veterinarian for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status.
If residents see a wild animal acting suspiciously, they should avoid contact with it and call the local game wardens so the animal can be trapped and tested for rabies. It is illegal to trap a wild animal yourself.
Residents who find a newly-deceased animal such as a bat or racoon on their property with no obvious signs of trauma should also contact the health department to determine if the animal needs to be tested.