Rabies infections hit 6-year high in Lexington, highest rate in SC

Rabies is “the most deadly virus on the planet.”

Although not that common, rabies is a serious concern among mammals.
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Although not that common, rabies is a serious concern among mammals.

This week, DHEC announced that a man in Lexington was attacked by a rabid fox on his property and had to begin treatment for the disease.

Lexington County is headed for one of the worst years for rabies in a decade, according to health data.

As of July 31, 12 animals in the county have been discovered with rabies, studies by the Department of Health and Environmental control show. That number is a six-year high, and Lexington has had the most known infections of any county of South Carolina in 2019.

Rabies is a virus that can be transmitted when saliva or neural tissue of an infected animal is introduced into the body of a healthy person or animal,” DHEC says. “It infects cells in the central nervous system, causing disease in the brain and, ultimately, death.”

Lexington County is set to surpass the previous decade-high mark in cases of the disease. From January to December of 2013, DHEC positively tested 13 animals for rabies. With about five months to go, 2019 will likely match or pass that record.

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Since 2010, the highest recorded amount of rabies cases were the 14 discovered in Pickens County in 2015 and the 14 positive tests in Beaufort County in 2016.

This year, the department has found eight infections in the Upstate’s Oconee County, giving it the state’s second highest rate of infection. Richland, Aiken, Kershaw, Newberry, Saluda and Sumter counties have all seen four or fewer animals infected.

Foxes are one of the primary carriers of rabies along with skunks and bats, the department says. But the animal that most often carries the disease is the raccoon. About 50% of discovered rabies cases in South Carolina are infected raccoons, according to DHEC. Cats and dogs account for about 7% of cases.

Editor's note: The following video contains graphic content. Peter Costa, with the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, explains how to properly clean and treat a wound from a possible rabid animal bite. The video is an excerpt from a video.

If potentially exposed to rabies, the department says a person should immediately wash a wound or area of contact and go to a doctor, even for a minor incident, and notify DHEC as soon as possible. Hundreds of people in South Carolina undergo preventive treatment for rabies every year from exposure to a rabid or suspected rabid animal, the department says.

To help prevent people from getting rabies, the department asks people to report any animals that look like they’re unhealthy or in need of care. It also says to vaccinate pets from rabies, to not keep wild animals as pets, and to never touch wild or stray animals.

“Avoid wild animals acting tame, and tame animals acting wild,” DHEC advises.

About 120 animals test positive for rabies each year, according to the department. So far, 84 infections have been discovered in 2019.

David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.