NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - New Hanover County Health Officials are warning pet owners to make sure their animals are up to date on their rabies shots.
The county has already seen four cases of rabid raccoons this year; three of those happened in the past month.
Dr. Robert Weedon is on the county's health board and says people shouldn't be alarmed by the recent rash of rabies cases, but they should be prepared.
"Because we are seeing more wild animals, the potential for human exposure, as well as the potential for your pet to become exposed is greater," said Dr. Weedon, who is a veternarian.
He says humans are also at risk. Each year 55,000 people die from rabies worldwide, although usually only two of those cases are in the United States.
Dr. Weedon says the recent rash of rabies cases could mean the virus is spreading, but he also thinks humans are encroaching on wild animals' territory.
If a vaccinated pet is exposed to a rabid animal, the owner simply has to take them for a rabies booster shot.
However, if the pet's rabies vaccine is out of date, the animal will have to be put down or quarantined for six months.
"The most important thing you can do is make sure your animals are currently immunized against rabies, because if they're not and they come in contact with a rabid animal, you're facing a tough decision," said Dr. Weedon.
It's a tough decision that he says can be easily avoided with a vaccine.
He says the United States has such a low rate of human rabies deaths because of mandatory vaccination laws.
New Hanover County requires pets to have the vaccine, and the county holds several free rabies clinics each year.
The next one will be held Saturday, March 21st at Animal Control Services from 1-3 p.m.