• Health officials confirmed that the raccon that entered Lexington Medical Center was rabid
  • People who think they may have been exposed to the raccoon are urged to seek medical attention
  • There have so far been 167 cases of rabies in animals in South Carolina in 2020

A raccoon that entered a hospital in South Carolina was positive for rabies, exposing one person to the virus. The creature was already the 14th animal in Lexington County to test positive for rabies this year.

On Monday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) confirmed that the raccoon that entered Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia, South Carolina tested positive for rabies on Dec. 19.

According to the agency, the individual who was exposed to the virus has already been referred to a healthcare provider. But it is still urging others who think they or someone they know might have been exposed to the raccoon or some other animal suspected of carrying rabies to contact their local Environmental Affairs Office.

Rabies is a fatal but preventable disease that affects the central nervous system, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained. It can be transmitted to people through the bite or scratch of an infected animal, with most of the rabies deaths in the world being caused by dog bites. It's important for people to receive the necessary medical care after possible rabies exposure.

In the U.S., rabies is mostly found in wild animals such as foxes, skunks, bats and raccoons. In South Carolina, for instance, a DHEC fact sheet on rabies in the state noted that from 2014 to 2019, 48% of the rabid animals were raccoons, followed by skunks at 21% and foxes at 10%.

As the DHEC noted in its news release, there have been 167 cases of rabid animals in South Carolina in 2020, with the raccoon being the 14th to test positive for the disease in Lexington County.

"To reduce the risk of getting rabies, always give wild and stray animals plenty of space," Terri McCollister, Rabies Program Team Leader, said in the DHEC news release. "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."

It's also important to keep pets' rabies vaccinations updated and to call the authorities if a pet has a wound "of unknown origin" and may have been exposed to the virus.

The CDC has provided the numbers to contact for each state in case of rabies exposure.

A raccoon sits on a log in the zoo in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on Sept. 6, 2005. Getty Images/Christof Koepsel