COLUMBIA, S.C. (DHEC PRESS RELEASE) – The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reported today, one person has been referred to their healthcare provider for consultation after being potentially exposed to rabies by a woodchuck, also known as a groundhog or whistle pig, which tested positive for the disease.

Two woodchucks were observed fighting with one another before one turned on the victim, who was subsequently bitten and scratched. This exposure occurred near the intersection of Playground Road and Highway 28 South in Walhalla. One of the woodchucks was submitted to DHEC’s laboratory for testing on July 3 and was confirmed to have rabies the same day. The other woodchuck was not available for testing.

“To reduce the risk of getting rabies, always give wild and stray animals their space,” said Sandra Craig, Director, DHEC Food Protection and Rabies Prevention Division. “If you see an animal in need, avoid handling it and contact your local animal control office or wildlife rehabilitation facility.”

“Rabies is transmitted when saliva or neural tissue of an infected animal is introduced into the body of a person or animal,” said Craig. “This usually occurs through a bite; however, saliva contact with open wounds or areas such as the eyes, nose, or mouth could also potentially transmit rabies.”

Any human or pet interaction with wildlife where there was a possibility of rabies transmission should be reported to your local DHEC Bureau of Environmental Health Services (BEHS) office during normal business hours (Monday thru Friday 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM). To report a bite or exposure on holidays and/or times outside of normal business hours please call the DHEC After-Hours Service number (888) 847-0902.

Hundreds of South Carolinians must undergo preventive treatment for rabies every year due to exposure to a rabid or suspected rabid animal. This woodchuck is the second animal from Oconee County to test positive for rabies in 2017. In 2016, three of the 94 animal rabies cases in South Carolina were in Oconee County. There have been 31 confirmed cases of animal rabies statewide this year.