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Growth is blamed for surge in rabies in area
Hall County has 12 confirmed cases of disease this year
Dr. Meghan Seabolt, left, gives a rabies shot to Daisy with help from vet technician Anna Crawford at the Hall County Animal Shelter on Tuesday afternoon. Daisy also was adopted recently from the shelte

Northeast Georgia rabies cases

Hall County

So far in 2012
Investigations: 131
Positive cases: 11

Investigations: 578
Positive cases: 16

Banks County

Investigations: 21
Positive cases: 7

Investigations: 46
Positive cases: 15

Dawson County

Investigations: 11
Positive cases: 1

Investigations: 15
Positive cases: 1

Forsyth County

Investigations: 45
Positive cases: 0

Investigations: 120
Positive cases: 2

Habersham County

Investigations: 13
Positive cases: 0

Investigations: 54
Positive cases: 6.500

Lumpkin County

Investigations: 4
Positive cases: 1

Investigations: 9
Positive cases: 1

Source: District 2 Public Health

So far this year, Hall County has had 12 confirmed cases of rabies. That’s on pace to match a spike five years ago when the county ended the year with 40 rabies cases.

The number of cases has been somewhat higher than usual for the last few years, according to Hall County Animal Control Director Mike Ledford.

Experts say they aren’t sure what exactly is to blame for the higher number of cases, but they suspect rural development and an increasing human population are factors.

Some of the main carriers of the rabies virus are raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes and bats. Dr. Valeri Love, a veterinarian at the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, said one reason there may be more cases is because these species live near developed areas, often thriving on food in garbage cans and pet bowls.

“Their populations increase as the human population increases. They are very adaptable to humans,” Love said.
While cases within Hall are found more often in the more rural parts of the county, the number of animals that test positive for rabies is comparatively low in more rural counties.

One reason could be there are fewer people to notice and report a suspicious animal.

“If they see an animal on their land that they believe is rabid, they’ll just go ahead and shoot it rather than call it in,” Lumpkin County Deputy Jeremy Walters said.

State regulations require all animals suspected of having the virus be sent to the public health lab for examination. But Walters said this can be very difficult to enforce.

David Palmer, public information officer for District 2 Public Health, said a lot of people don’t realize the seriousness of the virus.

“A lot of times if an animal is acting funny, they’ll think it’s got a broken leg or something and they want to help it,” Palmer said. “The best thing to do is leave it alone.”

Rabies is transmitted through saliva. When an infected animal bites or scratches another animal or human, the virus is transmitted into the bloodstream and starts to affect the central nervous system.

The virus can cause drooling, hallucinations, anxiety, aggression, convulsions and eventually death.

“The scary thing about rabies that a lot of people don’t understand is that it’s considered 100 percent fatal (without treatment),” Rick Aiken, president of the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, said.

Post-exposure treatment options are available for people who have been bitten by an animal suspected of having rabies.

According to the Georgia Department of Human Resources Rabies Control Manual, the number of human cases has decreased significantly since the 1940s when many dog owners began vaccinating their pets.

State law requires pet owners to have their animals vaccinated every year. Love said there is no excuse not to vaccinate an animal. Most animal shelters and veterinary offices offer the vaccine for a small fee.

“It’s very inexpensive. It can prevent a lifetime of misery. For that, $10 is cheap,” Aiken said.

Other states have given vaccines to wildlife by leaving it in food, but Palmer said that practice would not be cost-effective in the North Georgia area.

People can help prevent the spread of the disease by being observant and keeping pets away from wild animals.
Most people know to look out for aggression in animals and a foaming mouth, but the virus can manifest in different ways that pet owners may not notice.

“There’s the furious kind that looks like Cujo and then there’s the dumb rabies. That’s where they just act dumb,” Love said. “You see that more in a cat where they just want to be left alone. They’re just not acting right.”

Aiken said parents should educate their children about the virus and make sure they know not to approach any wild animal.

“If you can approach it and pick it up then you need to stay away from it because there is something wrong,” Aiken said.