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COLUMBIA, SC (WLTX) -- Nine people were exposed to rabies by a cat and dog at the start of this week, reports South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control.

In Kershaw County, three separate people were exposed to rabies by a stray cat in Camden on Monday, July 21st and Tuesday, July 22nd. The cat was captured and tested positive for rabies in lab tests Wednesday.

In Greenwood County, one family dog exposed six different people to rabies on Monday. The dog had not been vaccinated against the disease, and likely was exposed to it through contact with a wild animal such as a fox, raccoon, bat, or skunk.

These cases bring the total number of 71 confirmed cases of rabies in animals so far this year.

Pets that are exposed to the virus must be either euthanized, or quarantined for the fatal disease to run its course. Once rabies has infected the family pet, there is no cure.

"Rabies is a threat to humans, pets, and wild animals. All pet owners are required by law to have their dogs, cats, and ferrets vaccinated regularly. It is extremely important to the health of your pet, your family, and you that pet vaccinations are kept up-to-date," says Sandra Craig, of DHEC's Bureau of Environmental Health Services.

"This time of year, we spend more time outdoors, and have a greater chance of coming in contact with wild or stray animals," she went on to say, "The same is true for our pets and livestock, which stand the risk of being bitten or scratched by an infected animal. Pet owners should check their pets for bites and scratches, if pets have been in contact with stray or wild animals."

Above and beyond, the most important protection against this heartbreaking virus is through vaccination.

DHEC sponsors rabies clinics across the state, in association with local veterinarians every spring, and low-cost vaccinations are available every day at local veterinary clinics.

In addition, Pawmetto Lifeline's "Care-A-Van" travels all over the Midlands every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, offering rabies vaccinations, along with other necessary vaccinations and services such as heart worm. For complete information on their services offered and schedule of locations, visit their website at careavansc.com.

If you are scratched or bitten by a potentially rabid animal, or get the animal's saliva in a pre-existing wound, immediately wash the area with plenty of sooap and water, and then be sure to seek medical attention & report the incident to DHEC, at www.scdhec.gov/rabies.

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