A skunk has tested positive for animal rabies, and public health officials are reminding Walker County residents about the potential dangers of rabies and urging them to make sure their pets are vaccinated against the potentially deadly disease.

This is the first confirmed animal rabies case in Walker County for 2021 and the first since 2014.

While confirmed cases are relatively rare, officials emphasize animal rabies can be found throughout Walker County.

“Rabies is always circulating in our wild animal population,” said Jason Osgatharp, the Walker County Health Department’s environmental health manager.

Osgatharp cautions residents to avoid wild, stray, and possibly unvaccinated animals that may be infected with rabies and emphasizes residents should take additional precautions to protect themselves, their families, and their pets.

“Getting your pet vaccinated against rabies is the single best way to protect your pet from rabies,” Osgatharp said. “It’s important to do it for their protection, for our protection, and because it’s state law.

“Reducing the risk of rabies in domestic animals and limiting human contact with wild animals are two measures central to the prevention of human rabies,” Osgatharp said.

Other effective precautions against rabies include:

♦ Vaccinate all dogs, cats and ferrets against rabies. Check with your veterinarian to make sure your pets have up-to-date protection against rabies. Remember that the vaccination of pets against rabies protects not only the pets, but more importantly, protects people.

♦ Don’t leave pet food out where wild animals can access it. Leaving pet food out is a sure way of getting wild animals to visit your home, endangering you, your family and your pets.

♦ Remind children to avoid animals they don’t recognize, especially stray or wild animals. These animals may be infected with rabies.

♦ Small children should not be left unattended with dogs, even if the dog is a pet or the child is familiar with it.

♦ Keep pets at home. Obey any county laws requiring that dogs be restrained to the owner’s property. Pets that are kept close to home are less likely to encounter a rabid animal.

♦ Report any raccoon, fox, bat or skunk that is out during the day in a residential area or that is behaving strangely to the local Georgia Department of Natural Resources Game and Fish Division office at 1-800-241-4113.

♦ Report stray dogs and cats and aggressive or sick-appearing animals to the local animal-control office.

♦ Don’t attempt to assist injured or sick animals without professional help. Even animals which would never bite otherwise can bite when sick or in pain.

♦ Bats found in sleeping quarters should be captured and tested for rabies even when there is no evidence of a bite wound or contact with the sleeping individuals.

♦ After-hours calls involving aggressive animals should be directed to 911.

♦ After-hours calls involving animal bites and their potential for rabies exposure should be directed to 866-PUB-HLTH (866-782-4584).

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