COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Department of Health and Environmental Control reported that five people in Aiken and Edgefield counties have been referred to their personal health care providers after being potentially exposed to rabies by a raccoon that tested positive for the disease.

The animal is the fifth in Aiken County to test positive for rabies in 2019. 

So far this year, there have been 78 cases of rabid animals statewide.

In this latest incident, the raccoon was found in Aiken County on June 19 and the potential exposures occurred in Edgefield County between June 19 and July 7 while the animal was receiving care.

The raccoon was submitted to DHEC's laboratory for testing on July 12 and was confirmed to have rabies on July 15.

"Rabies is usually transmitted through a bite which allows saliva from an infected animal to be introduced into the body of a person or another animal, however, saliva or neural tissue contact with open wounds or areas such as the eyes, nose or mouth could also potentially transmit rabies," said David Vaughan, Director of DHEC's Onsite Wastewater, Rabies Prevention, and Enforcement Division

It's important to keep pets up to date on their rabies vaccination, as this is one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect against this the disease.

"To reduce the risk of getting rabies, always give wild and stray animals their space," Vaughan said. "If you see an animal in need, avoid touching it and contact someone trained in handling animals, such as your local animal control officer or wildlife rehabilitator."

If you believe that you, family members or pets have come into contact with this raccoon or another animal that potentially has rabies, please call DHEC's Environmental Affairs Aiken Office at 803-642-1637 during normal business hours (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday). Be sure to immediately wash any part of your body that may have come into contact with saliva or neural tissue with plenty of soap and water and seek medical attention. To report a bite or exposure on holidays or times outside of normal business hours, please call the DHEC after-hours service number at 888-847-0902.