published Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Rabid horse sends six to hospital in Dalton, Ga.

FAST FACTS

• Health officials remind pet and livestock owners that rabies vaccinations are available from any veterinarian and are easy, safe and effective.

• In wild animals, more than 80 percent of all positive laboratory cases in Georgia and the U.S. involve raccoons.

• Teach children never to pet any wild mammal or stray dog or cat, and to report any bite or scratch.

• Rabid wild animals often appear to be tame or sick.

• Any contact with a bat should be considered rabies exposure.

• All mammals are susceptible to rabies but to varying degrees; mammals such as rodents, opossums and rabbits almost never become infected or spread the disease.

Source: North Georgia Health District

HUMAN RABIES TREATMENT

For humans, anti-rabies treatment should begin as soon as possible after exposure, ideally within 24 to 48 hours. Human who are exposed are immunized with ready-made antibodies supplied through a series of injections given over several weeks. The injections are given in the upper arm.

Source: North Georgia Health District

North Georgia Health District officials say six people in Dalton are undergoing treatment after having contact with a horse diagnosed with rabies.

The people had contact with the horse's saliva or mucus and are "receiving post-exposure rabies treatments through area hospitals," North Georgia Health District Director of Environmental Health Raymond King said.

The horse, located in a pasture next to the Dalton Municipal Airport, was diagnosed with rabies by the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, according to King.

Health district spokeswoman Jennifer King, the wife of Raymond King, said rabid horses are rare in her experience; she could remember only one.

"It happens so rarely, I can't even remember the details of the last time," she said.

Officials have not been able to identify the animal suspected of giving rabies to the horse, she said.

"There's a period of time an animal can expose another animal, but that can be a long period of time, so there's no way of really knowing what animal exposed it," she said.

Health officials have speculated the horse might have come in contact with a raccoon, fox, skunk, bat, coyote or bobcat, all of which are known carriers of the deadly disease.

Raymond King said there are only one to three cases of rabies among Georgia livestock each year.

The rabid horse started showing symptoms on June 9 and was examined by veterinarians before it was taken to the University of Georgia Veterinary College for more testing and treatment, he said.

Officials said horses and cattle that were in the same pasture with the horse are being given rabies vaccine and will be observed for the next six months.

Untreated rabies is almost invariably fatal. The viral brain infection is spread by the saliva of a rabid animal through a bite or scratch, according to officials. Infections occur very rarely through contact with a fresh break in the skin or with intact mucous membranes.

Human deaths from rabies are uncommon in the United States -- only about one or two a year -- and most human deaths have been associated with exposure to bats, health officials said.

For more information about rabies, call the Whitfield County Environmental Health office at 706-272-2005 or go to the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/rabies.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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