Countywide rabies clinic set for May 17

Published 9:41 pm Friday, May 9, 2014

At the change of seasons, Beaufort County residents and their pets are spending more time in the great outdoors and chances of encountering other forms of wildlife are increased. It’s those encounters that have public health officials emphasizing the need to have every pet vaccinated for rabies.

On May 17, Beaufort County Animal Control will host a rabies clinic in four different locations throughout the county — in Belhaven, Washington, Chocowinity and Aurora — so all residents can protect their pets from the incurable disease. The vaccines, which are performed by Certified Rabies Vaccinators (CRVs), cost $5, which is the actual cost of the vaccination, a vaccination certificate and a rabies tag.

Animal Control Chief Todd Taylor said the yearly event draws out a good portion of pet owners in the area. While CRVs administer between 600 and 800 shots each time the rabies clinic is held, Taylor said there are many more animals that should be vaccinated.

“We know there’s a lot more animals than that in the county,” Taylor said.

North Carolina law requires a rabies clinic to be held annually in every county in the state, and specifies that rabies clinic shots can cost no more than $10. The price for the Beaufort County’s clinic has dropped this year, from $7 last year, largely because organizers had issues with making change for so many cash payments. But Taylor stressed that animal control wants to keep the shot as low-cost as possible, because rabies is a matter of public safety.

Taylor said most positively identified cases of rabies Beaufort County Animal Control sees are raccoon and fox, but for county residents, encounters between wild animals and domesticated ones can, at the best, cause a lot of hassle and money for pet owners, and at the worst, death.

In North Carolina, if an unvaccinated animal — a pet — bites a person, local health officials can confine that animal for up to 10 days. If an unvaccinated animal is proven, or is reasonably suspected, to have been exposed to the rabies virus, there are only two options: up to a six-month quarantine of the pet or euthanasia. This is because the rabies virus usually incubates from two to eight weeks before signs are noticed and there is no accurate test to diagnose rabies in live animals — testing requires brain tissue and can only be performed after the death of animal, according to the APSCA website. Any quarantine is at a pet owner’s expense.

“If you can’t do that, you’re only other option is to euthanize that animal,” Taylor said.

Antarctica and Australia are the only countries, and Hawaii is the only U.S. state, where rabies cases have never been reported. In 1997, North Carolina had its greatest number of cases, with 879, while Beaufort County had a high of nine cases reported in 2012. Over the past 23 years, Beaufort County numbers have been much lower, ranging between one and three cases per year, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services website. The species most likely to be infected with the virus are raccoon, skunk, fox, bat and cat.

In North Carolina and across the United States, the domestic animal most commonly infected with rabies is the cat, especially unsupervised outdoor cats, according to DHHS. The website recommends that pet owners not only vaccinate against rabies, but keep pets inside or supervised when outside. The agency also advises pet owners against feeding pets outside, as food will attract wildlife.

“Everybody needs to keep (rabies vaccinations) up to date, but especially those with outdoor animals,” Taylor said.

The May 17 rabies clinics will be held at the following times and locations: Belhaven, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. in front of the Farmers Market; Washington, from 10:45 a.m. to noon at the Beaufort County animal shelter; Aurora, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Public Works; and Chocowinity, from 10:45 a.m. to noon at D&H Home and Garden. CRVs will take cash or check. Pet owners requesting a three-year rabies shot for a currently vaccinated animal are required to bring vaccination paperwork for verification. Animal control officials ask that all animals be kept on leashes and any aggressive animals either be confined to the vehicle in which they arrived or muzzled for safety.

“It’s state law to have it done — it’s a requirement,” Taylor said, adding that the rabies clinic is also a good opportunity.