COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) — During National Dog Bite Awareness Week, state officials are reminding both pet owners and the public about how they can help prevent dog bites and exposure to rabies.

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environment Control, findings by the American Veterinary Medical Association revealed that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year, with children being the most common victims.

“Dogs play many roles in our lives and can be great companions; they can be trained for search and rescue, to guide the blind, and to help in an array of other supportive services,” said Terri McCollister, Rabies Program Team Leader. But, like all animals with teeth, they also can bite.”

McCollister stressed the importance of keeping pets current on their vaccinations.

DHEC mentions that dog bites can not only result in serious injury, but also exposure to rabies.

Below are some recommended tips provided by the National Dog Bit Prevention Coalition:

  • Make sure your pet is healthy
  • Take it slow
  • Educate yourself
  • Get outside for leash training
  • Be cautious about approaching other people’s pets.

All animal bites need to be reported to both DHEC and medical providers, state officials said.

Should a dog bites, scratches, or wounds a pet owner, DHEC recommends the following:

  • Confine the dog immediately
  • Call their veterinarian to confirm their dog’s vaccination records
  • Contact a local DHEC Environmental Affairs Office
  • DHEC will provide further instruction, according to the South Carolina Rabies Control Act

“Keeping your pets up to date on their rabies vaccination is the easiest way to protect you and your family, including your pets, from the rabies virus, which can be deadly,” McCollister said. “Any mammal has the ability to carry and transmit the disease to people or pets. Keeping pets current on their rabies vaccinations is state law and part of the responsibility of being a pet owner.”

More information can be found here and at scdhec.gov/rabieseducation.