HILLSBOROUGH — A bat found by two dogs in a Hillsborough back yard this week was Orange County’s 15th rabies case this year.
The county now has the most confirmed rabies cases in 2014 in North Carolina, according to the N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health website. Wake County had 12 and Mecklenburg County had nine as of Thursday.
Orange County had 12 positive rabies tests in each of the past two years.
In the latest case, a Hillsborough resident saw her two dogs lingering in the backyard Monday. She found a bat, brought the dogs inside and called Animal Control to remove it for testing.
State law requires dogs, cats and ferrets over 4 four months old to have a valid rabies vaccination, and Orange County also requires pets to wear a rabies tag.
In Monday’s case, the dogs were current on their rabies shots, so the law requires them to get a booster shot within five days.
If animals suspected of possible exposure are not currently vaccinated, the law requires them to be killed or quarantined for six months a the owner’s expense.
A county public health nurse was talking with the owner to assess her risk from handling the dogs.
“Awareness and prevention are always important, but especially given the current upswing in rabies cases in Orange County,” Orange County Animal Services Director Bob Marotto said.
Orange County could have 30 or more rabies cases this year.
That would be one of the highest totals since the onset of raccoon rabies in the 1990s, when racoons from Florida were brought to the mid-Atlantic states for hunting, Marotto said.
In 1997, the county had 106 confirmed cases.
“That was really extraordinary,” he said in an an interview Thursday. “It was really the beginning of raccoon rabies, not only in Orange County but in North Carolina. There was this explosion.”
Eleven of the county’s 15 cases this year have been in raccoons, two in bats, and one each in a skunk and fox.
Marotto said this year’s total could reflect a upswing in rabies in raccoons, which ebbs and flows in Orange County every three to five years.
The county’s high number could also reflect more Orange County residents reporting suspected cases to local officials than residents in other counties, Marotto said
Of the few cases of rabies in humans in the United States in recent years, most have been traced to bats, and Marotto said incidents involving bat reports go up in the summer.
People who suspect possible exposure to a rabid animal should call their Animal Control office or 911.