The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday March 20th

Six confirmed rabies cases already in Orange County

Orange County might be seeing an increase in rabies cases this year, highlighting the importance of preventative measures like vaccinations. 

There have already been six confirmed cases this year, compared to a total of 13 for 2013  , said Bob Marotto, director of Orange County Animal Services. He said the increase is likely part of the normal ebb and flow of rabies in the area.

“The literature, if you will, says that there’s a cycle of rabies in a reservoir species like raccoons throughout the mid-Atlantic,” he said. 

“This year, we may well be seeing the upside of the cycle given that we have half as many confirmed cases already this year to last year and the year before.”

But even though this year may see more rabies cases, Marotto said the important message remains the same: Because everyone has encounters with wildlife, everyone needs to take precautions to prevent the disease.

If an animal is up-to-date on its rabies vaccination and is bitten by a potentially infected animal, all it needs is a booster shot within five days of the bite, Marotto said. 

But if the animal is not vaccinated, it is required by law to be quarantined for six months or euthanized. There are currently three cats under quarantine in the county .

“We want to protect the animals and in protecting the animals, we protect the people,” Marotto said. 

“The best way to do that is through preventative measures. Really, the health of animals and the health of people is very closely related — especially if we’re doing the right things.”

Sue Rankin , communicable disease coordinator for the Orange County Health Department, said people can be exposed to rabies by bites from infected animals. 

The rabies virus can be transmitted through the saliva of an infected dog or cat for five days before it shows signs of the disease, which attacks the nervous system of mammals, including humans.

It is also possible to transmit the disease via neurologic tissue. But people exposed to rabies can prevent contracting the disease by receiving a series of four shots during a two week period.

There is an incubation period of three to eight weeks before humans show symptoms of the disease — including weakness, fever and headache before progressing to hallucinations, confusion and anxiety — after which it is incurable and deadly, Rankin said.

"Once you develop symptoms, it's too late," Rankin said. "If you think you've been exposed, you need to contact a medical provider right away."

According to the Orange County Health Department, raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats are the most common carriers of the disease in North Carolina. All six of the county's cases this year have been in raccoons.

Rabid animals might appear to be agitated, bite or snap at objects, drool or seem disoriented . Should your pet come in contact with a potentially rabid animal, avoid touching damp areas on its coat, face or body. Confine it to a safe place away from other animals and people and call animal control. 

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