South Carolina Documents Its First Human Rabies Case in Over 50 Years

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The eradication of rabies is important for both humans and animals. While there are no documented cases of human to human transmission, the devastating disease which targets the nervous system, does pass from animals to humans. And once animals have rabies, they have to be put to death for fear of it spreading. It's largely eradicated in the U.S., but still turns up in bats, raccoons, skunks, and other wild animals.

South Carolina health officials announced their first case of human rabies in over 50 years. A middle aged women contracted the disease from a bat in Sumter County, S.C.

Human rabies is very rare with only about 2 to 3 cases per year in the U.S., according to Dr. Eric Brenner, epidemiologist with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's Bureau of Disease Control. Sadly, once the disease is contracted, it almost always ends in death.

"The rabies virus travels slowly through the body until it reaches the brain and central nervous system and produces serious initial symptoms including headache, difficulty swallowing, seizures, anxiety, agitation and confusion," he said to Reuters. "Most patients die within a few weeks after the onset of these symptoms."

Worldwide Rabies Exposure

While about 55,000 people die of rabies each year in the world, it’s virtually eradicated in the U.S. because of vaccinations. In North America, the disease is contracted mostly from skunks, raccoons, and bats, while in the rest of the world it's normally contracted from dog bites. In recent years in the U.S. mostly all cases have been associated with bats.

Today, vaccination after infection is extremely effective at preventing contraction of the disease, which can sit in the system for months before it finally attacks the nervous system. Ultimately, the disease moves to the brain, resulting in death.

Post exposure vaccine prevention is an intense set of shots given after being bitten. Previously unvaccinated people should receive the vaccine intramuscularly at 0, 3, 7, and 14  days.

No SC Human Cases Since 1959

The last documented case of human rabies in South Carolina was in 1959 when an elderly women was bitten by a dog.

Rabies vaccinations are legally mandated in the state of South Carolina for all pets and with good reason, it saves our pets from contracting the disease and having to be put down.

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