CULLMAN COUNTY, Ala. – In Alabama last year, there were three raccoons tested by the Alabama Department of Public Health found to be positive for rabies. Another rabid raccoon case in Cullman County in July of 2021 caused a few individuals to have to go through post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment. If a person is bitten by an animal with rabies or suspects they may have been exposed to the disease, they should get treatment as soon as possible. It usually takes one-three months for a person to start exhibiting symptoms, but symptoms can present anytime between a few days and even years after exposure. If symptoms develop, rabies is fatal.
Cullman resident Heather Johnson recounts her encounter with a rabid raccoon. During her encounter, she wasn’t bitten, but scratched. In the case of scratching, it is equally important to receive treatment because rabid raccoons may lick their paws, getting saliva on their claws which can spread the disease. When Johnson happened upon the racoon, she first heard a high-pitched screeching sound alerting her of its presence. “I had never heard anything like it,” she said. Not recognizing the sound, she looked for the source.
Raccoons are generally silent and hide when hearing sounds they do not recognize, but the rabid raccoon ran unprovoked at Johnson who knew to scruff the neck of the raccoon to keep it from biting her. She had previously worked at a veterinary office for about five years, so she had experience with animals on the offensive, but had never seen an animal behave as aggressively as the raccoon. Luckily Johnson’s husband was nearby to shoot the rabid animal. It was sent to the health department for testing and came back positive. Johnson was told to go ahead with the postexposure prophylaxis as a precautionary measure.
“It only takes one drop of saliva, and when you start showing symptoms it’s way too late,” said Johnson.
Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) consists of a dose of human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) and rabies vaccine given on the day of the rabies exposure, and then a dose of vaccine given again on days 3, 7, 14, and 28. Current vaccines are relatively painless and given in the arm like a flu shot.
To prevent exposure to rabies, the ADPH recommends:
- Do not allow pets to run loose, confine them within a fenced-in area or with a leash
- Do not leave uneaten pet food or scraps near your residence
- Do not illegally feed or keep wildlife as pets
- Do not go near wildlife or domestic animals that are acting in a strange or unusual manner
- Caution children not to go near any stray or wild animal, regardless of its behavior
- Advise children to tell an adult if they are bitten or scratched by any animal.
For most Alabamians, the most common connection to rabid animals is through their pets. Reducing the risk of rabies in domestic animals is central to the prevention of human rabies. Vaccinating and removing stray animals that are at risk of exposure to rabid wildlife is the basic element of a rabies control program. Alabama law requires that all owned dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian with an approved vaccine.
The ADPH Zoonotic, Rabies Control and Bite Manual, (July 2015) states, “First, take your pet to the veterinarian on a regular basis and keep rabies vaccinations up to-date for all dogs, cats and ferrets. This is a legal requirement in the State of Alabama. Second, keeping your pets under direct supervision will help prevent unknown exposures to the wild rabies-carrying wildlife population. Third, spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly.”
There have been a few confirmed cases in Alabama in 2022, but so far none in Cullman County.
The annual Cullman County Rabies Clinic will be on Saturday, June 4 for vaccinations of pets. This clinic will be under the supervision of Cullman County veterinarians. The cost per vaccination is $12 paid by cash or check. The locations will be:
9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
- Good Hope High School
- Mr. Hope Baptist Church – Crane Hill
- Battleground School
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
- Logan Methodist Church
- East Elementary School
- Heritage Pharmacy – Dodge City
- Enon Church – Eva Road
1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
- Whitlock’s General Store – Trimble
- Hanceville High School
- Valley Grove Grocery
- Etha Baptist Church
- Springhill Church, Hwy 279 West
- Holly Pond High School
2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
- Calvert’s Store – Brushy Pond
- West Elementary School
- Garden City School
- Fairview High School
- Jones Chapel School
- Cross Creek Tractor – Berlin
4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
- Cold Springs High School
- Simcoe Baptist Church
- Arkadelphia Fire Station
- Parkside School
- West Point High School
- South Walter
5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
- Welti School
- White City Community Center