By Josette Keelor
As part of its yearly effort to raise rabies awareness, the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association has partnered with the Virginia Department of Health for a statewide observance this week.
The best way to help prevent the disease from spreading is to keep pets immunized, said Dr. Thomas Truban, a veterinarian with Shenandoah County Animal Shelter. When dealing with stray animals or those whose medical past is unknown, he advises wearing gloves or avoiding contact entirely.
Rabies, which is caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system, has continued to be a big deal in Virginia, he said, and it can affect any mammal.
"And that's not just in dogs and cats. That's also in horses," he said. He also said he sees the occasional cow with rabies.
Initial rabies immunizations are good for a year, but he warned that they don't kick in for 28 days.
After that, booster shots are good for three years, said Dr. Max Mandel, a veterinarian at Stephens City Animal Hospital.
"State law is that all dogs and cats over four months of age must be vaccinated against rabies," Mandel said.
"We have a pretty good handle on protecting our pet animals ... as long as the vaccinations are updated," he said.
But he said protecting other animals can be tricky.
"Ferrets are becoming very popular as pets," Mandel said. But like skunks, non-immunized ferrets can carry the rabies disease in their saliva and can infect others even if they aren't sick.
If another domestic animal bites a human, the local health department requires the animal to be quarantined for 10 days to see if it shows signs of rabies and dies. If it's fine after 10 days, the animal is cleared of being a rabies carrier.
The same isn't true for a ferret, Mandel said. If a ferret bites someone, he said the health department will want the person to get rabies treatments and the ferret to be tested for rabies, which means killing the ferret.
But he assured, "Ferrets are domestically raised now, so [if immunized] they're safe."
Mandel recommended that vaccinated dogs and cats bitten by an animal thought to be rabid receive a booster vaccine and, just to be safe, be observed for 10 days.
Foxes, skunks and raccoons are the prime wild animals at risk of being infected with rabies, and Mandel cautioned against having any contact with a wild animal, particularly one acting unusual -- like not showing fear of humans or, conversely, being aggressive.
Bats and farm animals can also carry and die from rabies. Farm animals are required to be vaccinated against rabies, Mandel said, and he said people should not handle a bat that looks wounded, even if it's in their house. Get help for it, he said, instead of touching it.
The Warren County Veterinary Clinic has rabies immunizations for $33 to $37 depending on if they're live or killed viruses. The most typical one they use is $33. At Frederick County Esther L. Boyd Shelter, rabies vaccines are $13 at a twice-a-year clinic in May and October. The next is Oct. 26.
Stephens City Animal Shelter gives rabies immunizations for $35 by appointment. At the Shenandoah County Animal Shelter, they're $13.
For more information, call the Stephens City Animal Shelter at 540-869-2100 or the Shenandoah Animal Shelter at 540-459-8930. Call the Frederick County Esther L. Boyd Shelter at 540-667-9192 or the Warren County Veterinary Clinic at 540-635-4176.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org