COLUMBIA, S.C. ― Each spring, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) encourages pet owners to take their pets to a veterinarian for routine care and vaccinations. To help make rabies vaccines easily accessible, DHEC is rallying behind several veterinary partners in support of the free or low-cost rabies vaccination clinics they’re holding in March and April.
While veterinarians offer rabies vaccines year-round, these DHEC-supported low-cost clinics help raise awareness about why rabies prevention is so important. Rabies is an active, deadly virus in wildlife, and it can be fatal to people if it’s left untreated. Severe illness from rabies in humans is preventable through post-exposure rabies treatment.
“Keeping your pets and livestock current on their rabies vaccination is a responsibility that comes with owning an animal,” said Terri McCollister, DHEC’s Rabies Program Team Leader.“It’s one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect yourself, your family, pets, and livestock from this fatal disease. Public health and safety are our primary focus, which is why we’re teaming up with veterinary partners to increase rabies awareness in our communities.”
Any mammal can transmit rabies to people or pets. In South Carolina, in 2022, there were 83 positive cases of rabies confirmed in animals across the state including 29 raccoons, 22 skunks, 16 bats, 7 foxes, 2 cats, 2 horses, 2 cows, 1 bobcat, 1 coyote, and 1 goat. South Carolina averages 148 confirmed rabid animals each year.
While the number of rabies-related human deaths has declined significantly over the past several decades as a result of rabies vaccinations and awareness, human fatalities still occur. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported no human related rabies deaths nationwide in 2022, but it reported five human-related rabies deaths in 2021.
“These unfortunate deaths are why we work so hard to bring rabies education to those who live in and visit our state,” McCollister said. “Participating veterinarians who choose to host these widely promoted low-cost clinics offer an invaluable and lifesaving service.”
South Carolina law requires all pet dogs, cats, and ferrets to be vaccinated against rabies and revaccinated at a frequency to provide continuous protection from rabies using a vaccine approved by DHEC and licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Livestock aren’t required by state law to be vaccinated, but because they’re susceptible to rabies, it’s strongly recommended they receive their vaccines. Cattle and horses are the most frequently reported rabies-infected livestock; however, goats, swine, and any livestock that have regular contact with humans or are considered valuable should be vaccinated.
“We appreciate all of the veterinary offices, shelters, and rescues who host free or low-cost clinics each spring,” McCollister said. “We encourage others to hold similar events and contact their local DHEC rabies program with the details so we can help promote the clinics on social media and in news releases.”
To find a free or low-cost rabies clinic near you, visit scdhec.gov/rabies.
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