Authorities warn about rabies cases

CONYERS — There have been several reports this year of animals with confirmed rabies in Rockdale County. Consequently, the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office is urging people to take precautions when outside and in areas where wild animals may be living.

The Sheriff’s Office posted the warning on its Facebook page Wednesday, advising citizens to “be educated, prepared, and understand the seriousness of rabies.”

In one incident that occurred on June 21, deputies were called to a home on Saxony Drive by a resident who reported there was a sick-looking raccoon in the area where children were playing.

“Once I arrived on scene, the raccoon appeared to be very sick and had mucous coming from his eyes and it was hunched up and scouring around (and appeared to) be very aggressive in nature,” Deputy Jonathan David Walsh reported.

The deputy determined the animal needed to be taken down, so he used his department-issued shotgun to shoot the animal twice.

Earlier in the month, a Rockdale County man killed a fox with a knife after it attacked a 3-year-old child who was visiting at his home on Flat Shoals Road.

The girl was taken to Rockdale Medical Center by ambulance where she received the first of five rounds of rabies vaccine.

This was the second time a fox had approached someone at that location. Two weeks earlier, a fox came out from underneath a truck and bit a man several times on his legs. However, the man was wearing thick socks so the bites never broke the skin.

Ciji Baker, shelter manager for Rockdale County Animal Care and Control, said toward the end of June, a man on Pembroke Court was attacked by a fox that later tested positive for rabies.

In January, a fox that also tested positive for rabies had attacked two people at St. George Place in Conyers.

Baker said that the number of reported bites from animals with rabies this year is the highest in his 13 years with Animal Care and Control.

That said, he does not believe there is an epidemic of rabies.

“It’s summer and in the summer, you’re gong to see wild animals, like foxes, raccoons and coyotes. Those are all carriers of rabies,” Baker said.

Teri Key-Hooson, director of the Newton County Animal Shelter, said there have been only two reports of rabid animals in Newton County this year — a skunk that tested positive in January and another skunk with rabies in March.

“I say that with caution. It’s not that it’s not out there; it just hasn’t surfaced yet,” she said.

Rabies is a virus that is seen primarily in wild mammals, such as skunks, raccoons, coyotes, foxes and bats, and is passed when an infected animal bites another animal.

Baker said there are a number of reasons to account for a spike in the number of animal bites. For one thing, Baker said, construction eats into the natural habitat of these animals, so in some ways they are displaced.

At the same time, animals are adjusting to their surroundings.

“They become accustomed to human activity, getting used to that environment, so they don’t stay hidden and may venture out more because they’re used to seeing you every day,” he said.

In any event, Baker advised that people use caution when outside and never approach a wild animal.

He also said not to leave pet food on the back porch and to make sure a lid is on all trash cans.

“You want to prevent wild animals from wanting to be on your property – you don’t want them to have a free buffet in your back yard,” Baker said.

He said to make sure all pets, such as cats and dogs, are up to date on their rabies shots.

For more information about rabies, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/rabies/ or the state Department of Public Health at dph.georgia.gov/rabies.