South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reported Wednesday three people in Oconee County have been referred for medical help after they were potentially exposed to rabies from a cow.
The agency said the potential exposure occurred while the victims were providing general care to the cow. After reports the cow had been acting sick, its body was submitted to the University of Georgia for testing. Test results confirmed Monday the cow had rabies.
While state law requires pet owners to vaccinate dogs, cats, and ferrets, it does not require the same for agricultural animals. However, DHEC said it strongly recommends U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved vaccines for cows, horses, and sheep which interact with humans.
DHEC strongly recommends that owners of agricultural animals vaccinate (when vaccines are available):
• Any livestock that have frequent contact with humans or are used in exhibitions
• Any livestock that are particularly valuable
• Animals used for production of raw milk for human consumption
“To reduce the risk of getting rabies, we recommend that people use caution when pets or livestock exhibit sudden changes in behavior,” DHEC’s Onsite Wastewater, Rabies Prevention, and Enforcement Division director David Vaughan said in a release. “This is especially true if owners notice unexplained injuries on their animals or stray/wild animals mingling with livestock or pets.”
While cows with rabies are somewhat rare, the virus itself is occasionally found in wild mammals. The cow was the third animal in Oconee County to test positive for rabies this year. There have been 66 confirmed animal cases of rabies statewide.
“Every year, hundreds of South Carolinians must undergo preventive treatment for rabies after being potentially exposed to the rabies virus,” Vaughan said. “Once symptoms of rabies are present in an animal, it is impossible to tell by appearance if an animal has rabies or some other condition that causes similar signs of illness, such as distemper or lead poisoning. The only way to determine if the animal has rabies is to have the brain tested in a laboratory.”
Since 2013, South Carolina has averaged approximately 110 positive cases a year. In 2017, 5 of the 63 confirmed rabies cases in South Carolina were in Oconee County.
For additional information on rabies and livestock, please visit: http://www.scdhec.gov/rabies/ExoticPetsFarmAnimals/.
Residents can contact their local Bureau of Environmental Health Services’ office using DHEC’s interactive map: http://www.scdhec.gov/EAOffices. For more information on rabies visit: www.scdhec.gov/rabies or www.cdc.gov/rabies/.