First rabies infected raccoon found in Chilton County

Published 5:41 pm Friday, June 14, 2013

A raccoon infected with rabies was recently found in Chilton County near Waxahatchee Creek.

Although it is unclear where the raccoon came from, Dana Johnson, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based at the School of Forestry and Wildlife Services at Auburn University, said he will now start pursuing raccoons in the county to determine if more are infected with the rabies virus.

Johnson said a high number of rabies infected raccoons have recently been appearing in Shelby County with 12 reported cases and the most recent case in Chilton County bringing the total to 13 cases.

“Historically, we have not seen an outbreak like this on this side of the Coosa River,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to scare the public but this is a pretty large outbreak and it is very important to us.”

The raccoon found in Chilton County was located a couple of miles from the start of state route 22 and had been run over. Johnson took the raccoon back to his lab and it tested positive for rabies. He will now begin an enhanced surveillance throughout the county to determine if more raccoons carry the rabies virus.

The rabies virus carries two types of variance in the state of Alabama, one with raccoons and one with bats.

Johnson explained the raccoon variance attacks the neurological functions of a raccoon and if infected, the virus will go to its brain.

Infected raccoons can often display symptoms of falling over, having no fear of humans, or wobbling around. More aggressive forms of rabies in the raccoons will have them lunging at inanimate objects like a tire, attacking animals or humans, or self-mutilation.

Johnson said raccoons can pass the rabies virus through a cut, scratch or bite and it is not transmitted through blood, feces or urine.

“Our biggest goal right now is we are trying to educate the public,” Johnson said. “We especially want to educate those who live in rural areas because those areas are the most common for people letting their dogs run free.”

Johnson said the biggest prevention for dogs to not get infected with rabies is vaccinations.

“I think it is a common idea that even if you have your dog behind a fence the raccoon won’t get near it,” Johnson said. “That is untrue because raccoons can climb. The biggest prevention tool for your animal to not get infected is to vaccinate them from the rabies virus.”

Another common myth Johnson said people tend to associate with rabies-infected raccoons is they will appear during the daytime hours.

“That doesn’t matter,” Johnson said. “You see a raccoon in the daylight and that is really not that big of a deal. It is what that raccoon is doing during the daylight that you should be more concerned about.”

Johnson and several others will ride Alabama roads locating raccoons or road kill to determine if the rabies virus exists in the animals.

Typically, Johnson said raccoons have a home range that is normally about 360-600 acres.

“One that is rabid has lost all of the ability to really think normal and will often just roam,” Johnson said.

For anyone who has been exposed, or may have been exposed, including animals, Johnson said to call the local health department.

“We only deal with non-human exposures,” Johnson said. “If you think your animal has been exposed the best thing is to take it to a vet and call the health department.”

If anyone notices a raccoon in their area, Johnson and his team will respond to any call and come check out the animal.

“We would rather you call us and we will come take a look,” Johnson said. “If the raccoon is acting strange though we would prefer for people to just leave it alone and keep track of where it was. We will eventually find it and test it because it is illegal for people to trap the raccoons.”

Johnson said people in Chilton County should call (334) 844-5670 and report any rabies cases. Anyone with a human or domestic animal case should also call the Chilton County Health Department at 755-1287.