Nearly 20,000 letters will be sent home with Floyd County students this week as public health officials confront a rising problem. Floyd surpassed every other county in the state last year with 15 confirmed cases and already has recorded two cases this year -- as has neighboring Polk County.
Bartow County reported only five confirmed cases of rabies last year and has yet to confirm any rabid animals in 2012. The contrast in reported cases may not, however, relate to actual occurrences. Logan Boss, public information officer with the Northwest Georgia Public Health Department, explained that despite higher numbers, Floyd County is not thought to have more rabid animals. Instead, the reason for a higher number of confirmed cases is believed to be a result of awareness and reporting habits.
"We haven't seen the same anomalies for Bartow as we've seen for Floyd. ... Bartow has not really shown a history of confirmed cases," Boss said. "We don't really feel like there is any more rabies here than anywhere else but we just can't explain why we're seeing these numbers.
"We think in some counties, there's a predisposition to people reporting rabies cases."
Northwest Georgia Public Health officials warn area residents that county lines don't stop animals or the spread of rabies. Letters distributed through Floyd County schools also serve to remind parents of the dangers as spring arrives and children spend more time outdoors.
"We wanted to reach parents," stated Northwest Georgia Health Environmental Health Director Tim Allee in a press release. "And remind that with warmer weather approaching and outdoor activity soon to increase, now is a good time to teach their children not to go near, tease or play with wild animals or strange dogs and cats."
Rabies is a virus carried by animals, primarily raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats, which can be transmitted by saliva or brain tissue. Humans can be infected when saliva or brain tissue of a rabid animal gets in the mouth, eyes or blood -- typically, rabies is spread through an animal bite or scratch.
Dogs, cats and livestock also can contract rabies. A rabid animal may act tame or show signs of aggression. An infected animal also may display strange behavior, such as avoiding water, foaming at the mouth or having difficulty moving. It is advised to stay away from all stray or wild animals.
If bitten by a rabid animal, treatment must begin soon after to prevent infection. If left untreated, rabies is 100 percent fatal.
Residents are asked to report any suspicious animal to the environmental health office of the Bartow County Health Department at 770-387-2614 or Bartow County Animal Control at 770-387-5153. If a pet is bitten by another animal suspected of carrying rabies, call the aforementioned offices, a veterinarian or the Georgia Poison Center 24/7 at 800-282-5846.
The Northwest Georgia Department of Public Health offers the following advice for protecting family and friends:
* Make sure pets get their rabies shots regularly.
* Keep pets in the yard, on a leash or in the home at all times.
* Do not leave garbage or pet food outside. Food left outside may attract wild or stray animals.
* Stay away from wild, sick, hurt or dead animals. Do not pick up or move sick or hurt animals. If a wild, sick or hurt animal is found, call Bartow County Animal Control.
* Do not keep wild animals like raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes or wolves as pets. It is dangerous and illegal.