Second rabies case found in Chilton County

Published 6:09 pm Monday, July 1, 2013

A second raccoon infected with rabies was found last week in Chilton County near U.S. Highway 31 and County Road 29.

This is the second infected raccoon to be found in Chilton County after the first one was located near Waxahatchee Creek in early June.

“The one we found last week is very concerning because it was just two miles north of Clanton city limits,” said Dana Johnson, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based at the School of Forestry and Wildlife Services at Auburn University. “The concern is trying to find out if there are more in that particular area where you have a large population of people.”

Johnson said he and his team of researchers will start combing the area to determine if there are more infected raccoons with the rabies virus.

A third raccoon has been reported in Chilton County about five miles west of Clanton and is currently being tested for rabies. Johnson said he will know within the next couple of days if it tested positive for the rabies virus making a total of three cases in Chilton County.

“We will go out and start looking throughout the area,” Johnson said. “We will talk to people who live around those particular areas and find out if they have seen anything.”

Johnson said a high number of rabies-infected raccoons have recently been appearing in Shelby County with 14 reported cases in Shelby County, four in Leeds and two in Chilton County.

“If you look at the areas of the reported cases, from Clanton to Leeds is a 46-mile radius,” Johnson said. “We are receiving reports of them in places that are fairly spread out so we are trying to find out if these are isolated incidents or how these raccoons are ending up in these areas.”

Chilton County Public Health Environmental Supervisor Keith Jackson said the raccoon found last week in Chilton County was on County Road 29 closer to County Road 77.

An individual reported seeing the raccoon in his doghouse after the dog had evacuated the area.

“An animal control officer picked up the raccoon and transported it to the Chilton County Humane Society,” Jackson said. “We kept it there until Johnson could come and pick it up and take it back to his lab where it tested positive for rabies.”

Johnson said after the July Fourth holiday, he will begin an enhanced surveillance throughout the county to determine if more raccoons in the surrounding area also 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.

On Monday, Johnson urged everyone to be aware of the ways a raccoon can transmit the virus due to a lot of common myths surrounding the animals.

“I have been told that a physician told an individual you can’t get rabies from a scratch,” Johnson said. “That is simply not true. You can get rabies from a scratch because it is passed through the saliva of the raccoon and the saliva could be on the raccoon’s hands. Everyone really needs to be aware of the ways rabies can be transmitted because I think there is a lot of confusion about it.”

Johnson also stressed that one of the biggest preventions for dogs to not get infected with rabies is vaccinating them.

“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.”

For anyone who has been exposed, or may have been exposed, including animals, Johnson said to call the local health department and they will come out to determine if it has been an “exposure.”

Johnson and his team only deal with non-human exposures and will answer calls to come check out an animal if anyone notices a raccoon in their area.

“We would rather you call us and we will come take a look,” Johnson said.

Johnson said if a raccoon is acting strange, he would prefer for people to leave it alone and merely keep track of where they found the raccoon.

“A raccoon that has the rabies virus has lost all of the ability to really think normal and we would rather you call us so we can deal with them,” Johnson said.

For those living in Chilton County, call Johnson at (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.