CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) – State health officials say one person is believed to have been exposed to rabies by a stray cat that tested positive for the disease.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said the exposure happened around February 12th when the victim was scratched after caring for the stray animal.

The rabid cat was initially found in an area west of the city of North Charleston and was described as a small gray in color domestic short-hair.

On February 15th, DHEC officials say the cat was submitted to their laboratory for testing and was confirmed to have rabies later on the 19th.

“Rabies is most commonly transmitted via a bite which allows saliva from an infected animal to be introduced into the body of a person or another animal,” said David Vaughan, director of DHEC’s onsite wastewater, rabies prevention and enforcement division. “Transmission is also possible when open wounds or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, etc.) have contact with infected saliva or neural tissue.

He went on to say, “If any part of your body may have come in contact with saliva or neural tissue from an animal, immediately wash the exposed area with plenty of soap and water and seek medical attention.”

Health officials say to reduce the risk of contracting rabies, be sure to give wild and stray animals their space.

If you see an animal in need, avoid touching it and contact your local animal control officer or wildlife rehabilitator.

“It is also important to keep pets up to date on their rabies vaccination, as this is one of the easiest and most effective ways you can protect yourself, your family, and your pets from this fatal disease,” said Vaughan.

If you believe that you, your family members or pets came into contact with this cat or another animal that potentially has rabies, please call DHEC’s Environmental Affairs Charleston office at 843-953-0150.

DHEC officials say this cat is the first animal in Charleston County to test positive for rabies in 2019. There have been 16 confirmed cases of animal rabies statewide so far this year.

In 2019, they say three of the 100 confirmed rabies cases in SC were in Charleston County.