Three cats were euthanized this week as a safety precaution after coming in contact with yet another rabid raccoon on Hilton Head Island. One of those cats is now being tested for the disease.
Veterinarian Ben Parker of Coastal Veterinary Clinic said the raccoon was found dead in a Spanish Wells resident's garage last week. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control confirmed the animal tested positive for rabies.
Neighbors of the Spanish Wells resident had outside cats that did not have current rabies vaccinations. State law required owners to quarantine the pets for six months -- or euthanize them -- if they come into contact with a rabid animal, Parker said.
"Two of the cats did not have symptoms, but the third cat was acting strange and had changes in mental status," said Parker, who served as the animals vet. "Because of that, we decided to euthanize that cat and it's being tested for rabies as we speak."
The other cats were euthanized because the families either had children or did not consider quarantine humane. They also did not want to risk spreading the disease, Parker said.
Two weeks ago in the same
neighborhood, a Jack Russell terrier got into a fight with a raccoon and was bitten on the nose and face. As a precaution, Parker gave the dog, which already had a rabies vaccine, a booster shot.
Parker said it's unclear if the dog came in contact with the same rabid raccoon that possibly infected the cats.
Though rabid raccoons have been common recently, state officials say rabies is a springtime disease and the recent incidents are not the beginning of a trend. The disease is spread through animal saliva and usually
affects raccoons, bats and skunks.
"It comes and goes," DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said. "Some counties will see several one year, and the next year, none."
If a dog or cat is bitten or attacked by a rabid animal, the pet could spread the disease to its owner. Parker said the owner should immediately call a vet to discuss shots and the possibility of a quarantine. DHEC allows the owner to board the animal at a veterinarian's office or keep it in a cage in an isolated room at home or in the backyard.
Myrick said anyone who's come in contact with a rabid animal's saliva should seek immediate medical attention and report the incident to DHEC. Even if a pet is vaccinated, there still could be potential danger of contracting the disease.
If untreated, rabies can cause symptoms weeks or years after the bite, among them pain, fatigue, headaches, fever, seizures, hallucinations, paralysis and death. Post-exposure human treatment includes a series of five shots in the shoulder or forearm, along with two extra shots at the bite site and in the buttocks.