DALTON, GA. (WRCB) -- A horse located in a pasture immediately adjacent to the Dalton Municipal Airport in Whitfield County has been diagnosed with rabies by the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
A total of six local persons who had recent contact with the saliva or mucus of the horse are receiving post-exposure rabies treatments through area hospitals, according to Raymond King, Director of Environmental Health for the North Georgia Health District.
The horse started to show possible symptoms on June 9th and was examined by a number of persons and veterinarians that week before being taken to the University of Georgia Veterinary College for further examination and testing.
It is not known how the horse became infected with rabies but public health officials say that it was most likely from a rabid wild animal such as a raccoon, fox, skunk, bat, coyote or bobcat. The rabies virus is always present to some extent in such wild animal populations. Horses and cattle in the same pasture with the horse are being given rabies vaccine and are being observed for the next six months.
Rabies is an almost invariably fatal acute viral brain infection that is spread by the virus-laden saliva of a rabid animal through a bite or scratch. Infections occur very rarely through contact with saliva with a fresh break in the skin or with intact mucous membranes.
Airborne spread has been demonstrated in a cave where bats were roosting and in a laboratory setting, but again this method of infection is extremely rare.
In the United States human deaths from rabies are uncommon, only about one or two a year and the majority of these deaths have been associated with exposure to bats.
Any contact with a bat or even finding a bat in your bedroom in the morning should be considered rabies exposure. In wild animals, more than 80 percent of all positive laboratory cases in Georgia and the U.S. are from raccoons.
All mammals are susceptible to rabies but to varying degrees. Mammals such a rodents, opossums and rabbits almost never become infected or spread the disease.