A mild winter could be leading to an increase in rabies cases, David Jones said.
The officer for Hall County Animal Control said the unusually warm temperatures are altering animals' normal hibernation habits. If winter conditions don't return to the area, Jones said the county could be in for an influx of cases — as high as 30 to 40 for the year rather than the 18 cases last year.
And there's not much animal control can do to slow that pace, Jones said.
The second confirmed rabies case of 2012 caused officials to issue an alert Tuesday for the Latty Road area near Lula after a rabid skunk came in contact with a dog.
The skunk was shipped to the Georgia Public Health Lab, Virology Section, in Decatur and confirmed positive for rabies on Monday.
"Skunks generally hibernate, but right now it's not cold enough for them to hibernate," Jones said. "If a skunk had been infected with the rabies virus and went into hibernation he's not coming out. But now that it's mild and they're not hibernating, they're going to roam more and the likelihood they're going to infect something else is greater."
Last week, a bobcat was confirmed positive for rabies after biting two dogs in Gillsville.
Animal Control officials are awaiting test results of two other possible rabies cases. If those come back positive, Jones said it would be "concerning."
Many of the county's rabies cases have occurred in North and East Hall, which are heavy with small waterways that attract animals.
Alert signs have been posted in the areas where the rabid skunk and bobcat were found. If you live in those areas or you see an animal acting abnormally, contact Hall County Animal Services at 770-531-6830 or during nonworking hours call Hall County Dispatch at 770-536-8812.
Animal owners are encouraged to vaccinate their pets and livestock for rabies. Vaccines are available for $10 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday at the Hall County Animal Shelter at 1688 Barber Road in Gainesville and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia at 845 W. Ridge Road in Gainesville.
"Even if somebody is keeping their animal in complete compliance by keeping them put up and current with shots, you're not immune to a wild animal coming in the yard and attacking your animal," Jones said.