A confirmed incident of rabies this week involving a Garner dog brings the total number of cases of the potentially fatal disease up to at least 16 this year in Wake County. That’s an increase from last year.
“It’s an example of why it’s so important to keep your animals vaccinated,” said Carl Williams, state veterinarian with the N.C. Division of Public Health.
North Carolina laws are relatively stringent about mandating rabies vaccinations for house pets, Williams said. The owner of every dog, cat or ferret is required to keep the animal vaccinated.
“It’s like the speed limit,” said Williams. “Not everyone follows it, but it’s the law.”
When officials first learned of the rabid dog Monday, it was taken to the state lab in Raleigh for testing. It was euthanized. State law requires potentially rabid pets to be destroyed unless owners agree to support a six-month quarantine, according to Wake health services.
Four people who were exposed to the dog have begun a series of treatments, Wake officials said. The process requires four treatments over the next 14 days.
The canine case is the second confirmed report of rabies this week in Wake, after a rabid fox was reported in Cary on Sunday. Residents first observed the fox behaving oddly and reported it to animal control officers, who performed lab tests and confirmed rabies.
Though exposure to rabies can be fatal, increased vaccination requirements and advances in treatment have kept death rates low across the nation. The Centers for Disease Control reports an average of just two or three deaths each year.
The key is getting treatment.
“If you’re not treated and develop clinical symptoms, you will most likely die,” said wildlife researcher Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf.
More than 90 percent of all animal cases reported annually to the Centers for Disease Control now occur in wildlife. Principal hosts are wild carnivores and bats.
In Wake, bats have been the most common carrier of rabies this year, in six of the 16 cases.
The number of confirmed cases for other Triangle counties this year include nine in Chatham County and five in Johnston County.
Rabies does not look the same in every case and may not always fulfill the stereotype of an animal foaming at the mouth, Kennedy-Stoskopf said.
In some cases, a dog may just look disoriented, stagger and not appear to be aware of its surroundings.
“People see an animal that appears that way and say, ‘let me help this animal’... and that’s how they get exposed to it,” Kennedy-Stoskopf said.