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Know rabies protocol, prevention to combat disease

Rabies cases have been reported in every state in the continental U.S.

Georgia, home to raccoons, foxes, bats and skunks — species most commonly associated with the disease — is no exception.

Recently, a rabid raccoon was reported on post. While there’s no cause for alarm, it is crucial to know the facts and what to do if you see an animal you suspect to be rabid, said Capt. Kevin Taylor, chief of the Department of Preventive Medicine.

“This is out there in the animal population,” Taylor said. “Because rabies is a severe disease in humans, we put a lot of emphasis on prevention. Avoid any stray dogs or cats. Avoid wildlife, especially any nocturnal animals that are perhaps acting abnormally. Don’t touch any type of bat you may find in your house. Try not to handle any situation on your own. Call Animal Control.”

While only four human cases of rabies were reported in the U.S. and Puerto Rico in 2009, the disease kills more than 55,000 each year worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the U.S, the CDC cites wild animals as the source of an overwhelming majority of the cases — about 93 percent.

Taylor recommends reporting any animal exhibiting strange behavior. The warning sign isn’t always a foaming mouth, he said.

“Animals don’t necessarily have to be vicious and aggressive when they have rabies,” he said. “They might just be acting a little funny or a little sick or even appear to be friendly, so it’s important that any animal be approached with caution.”

Rabies is a virus affecting only mammals and invades the brain by way of the nervous system. That’s why symptoms are evidence of neurological deterioration, such as disorientation, uncoordinated muscle movement, paralysis or seizures.

The CDC reported more than 6,650 rabies cases in the U.S. in 2009. Georgia accounted for more than 400 of those — ranking fifth for the most cases reported in the country.

“If you are bitten by an animal or have contact with an animal that might have rabies, the most important thing to do is wash the wound right away with soap and water for several minutes,” Taylor said. “Then seek immediate medical attention because in some cases it might be appropriate to receive post-exposure prophylaxis, which is just a series of vaccinations and injections with rabies antibodies. Fortunately, these interventions are very effective in preventing rabies if implemented soon enough.”

The virus is not airborne but can be passed through a scratch if the animal’s nails were contaminated with its saliva, Taylor said.

Without immediate medical care, an infected person will begin to show symptoms, at which point the disease is nearly always fatal, he said.

Only two cases have been reported of people surviving after showing symptoms and not receiving the appropriate post-exposure treatment, according to the CDC.

What else can you do? Take responsibility for protecting your pets against rabies. Make sure their vaccinations are up-to-date. To schedule a veterinary appointment on post, call the clinic at 706-545-4444.

If you see an animal that may be rabid on Fort Benning, call the Provost Marshal Office at 706-545-5224 or 706-545-5223. For an animal in the home, such as bats, place an emergency work order with post housing management at 706-685-3929. Off-post, call Columbus Animal Control at 706-653-4512.