Coyote was rabid when it attacked people and pets in Columbia, SC health officials say

It was unusual when a coyote ventured into a densely populated area of Columbia and attacked people and dogs last week.

An explanation for the wild animal’s bizarre behavior was revealed when the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reported the coyote was rabid.

As a result, six people and at least two animals have been potentially exposed to the disease, DHEC said in a news release.

Following tests at DHEC’s labs, it was confirmed the coyote had rabies, according to the news release.

“Rabies is usually transmitted through a bite which allows saliva from an infected animal to be introduced into the body of a person or another animal,” DHEC’s Director of Onsite Wastewater, Rabies Prevention, and Enforcement Division David Vaughan said in the news release. “However, saliva or neural tissue contact with open wounds or areas such as the eyes, nose, or mouth could also potentially transmit rabies.”

The attack occurred on Sept. 1, at about 6:30 a.m. at the Crossroads Apartment complex in the 700 block of Zimalcrest Drive, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.

That area has several residential complexes, restaurants and retail businesses, and is near the intersection of interstates I-20 and I-26, commonly referred to as Malfunction Junction.

Deputies found the coyote and it was “put down,” the sheriff’s department said.

But not before its rampage, which might have begun when it attacked a woman who was going to walk her dogs.

The woman said she pulled her pets inside her apartment, but the coyote followed and pushed “through the door,” WLTX reported.

A friend of the woman told The State that the injuries inflicted by the coyote were “quite significant.”

Further information on her condition, and the others attacked by the coyote was not available. But DHEC said it referred them to seek medical attention after being potentially exposed to rabies.

DHEC had advice for anyone who might have come into contact with the coyote, or any other rabid animal.

“Be sure to immediately wash any part of your body that may have come into contact with saliva or neural tissue with plenty of soap and water and seek medical attention,” DHEC said in the news release.

It also reminded all pet owners to keep their animals up to date on rabies vaccination to prevent the disease, which can be fatal, according to the news release.

The coyote is the fourth animal to test positive for rabies in Richland County in 2019, the same number of reported cases for all of 2018, DHEC said.

Overall in South Carolina, there have been 99 reported cases of rabid animals this year, according to the news release.

Coyotes started to show up in South Carolina in 1978 and “continue to expand greatly in numbers,” according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

In February, one state senator proposed a bill that would pay hunters $75 each time they kill a coyote, McClatchy news group reported.

“The state’s perspective is every coyote needs to be a dead coyote. Trap them, shoot them, kill them, however you want to get rid of them. We need to get rid of them,” Sen. Stephen Goldfinch said, WMBF reported. “This is now about going to war with the coyotes. They’re eating our cats and our dogs and our deer and turkeys.”

DHEC said anyone who has “reason to believe that you, your family members, or your pets” came in contact with the coyote from the Columbia attack, or any other rabid animal, should call 803-896-0620 during normal business hours, or otherwise try 888-847-0902.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC

Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State focused on breaking news, public safety and trending news. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.