By Josette Keelor
The Warren County Health Department has confirmed that a cat found along Happy Creek greenway biking trail in Front Royal has tested positive for rabies.
The cat, described as a domestic shorthair with gray and white markings, attacked two people along the trail near Andrick's Front Royal Flea Market and the intersection of Main Street and Commerce Avenue, according to a news release.
Following the June 24 incident, the health department is urging residents who live in the vicinity of the attack to seek veterinary care for pets that have returned home with wounds from an unknown source.
The department is also reminding pet owners to ensure dogs, cats and ferrets under their care are current on vaccinations against the rabies virus. According to Dr. Charles "Charlie" Devine III, health director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, this includes stray animals that residents are feedin, despite recommendations not to feed strays.
"I strongly counsel people to not feed wild animals or stray cats or dogs," Devine said. He added that residents inclined to help stray animals consider having them vaccinated.
Rabies is transmitted through a scratch, bite or by getting saliva or brain tissue in an open wound or in the mouth, according to the health department release. An infected animal can infect a human, and if untreated the virus is fatal for both.
The infected cat in Front Royal was euthanized so that its brain could be tested for rabies infection.
Devine said he doesn't know the manner in which the cat was captured or how it contracted the virus. Raccoons and skunks are the most commonly infected wild animals in the area, but he said occasionally opossums and woodchucks will test positive for rabies.
"In Virginia every year we will see perhaps a handful," he said. Cows, horses and goats can also contract rabies from other infected animals.
Symptoms of rabies in humans are the same as they are in any other animal, he said. The disease attacks the brain, causing it to dysfunction. Those infected could feel tingling in the arms and legs, difficulty swallowing and extreme agitation or lethargy. Animals may foam at the mouth or have excessive salivation because of their difficulty to swallow, and they may have trouble walking.
"[Rabies] leads to a miserable death for the animal," Devine said, and "a painful and tragic death for the human."
However, he said, "We can treat people who have an exposure, and the treatment, if administered properly, has never been known to fail."
Treatment consists of two different medicines -- a rabies immune globulin injected into the area around the wound in a dosage based on the patient's weight, and a vaccine administered three times over two weeks, he said.
Pet owners should seek veterinary aid for domestic animals exhibiting rabies symptoms, which Devine said could indicate other conditions too.
A pet thought to have been exposed to rabies will be monitored for up to 10 days to see if it exhibits symptoms. If it's still alive and well after that time, it will receive a booster rabies vaccine and may return home.
A rabies bite does not always lead to death, he said, so "we don't want people to be afraid to identify the animal that did the biting."
Wild or stray animals exhibiting symptoms should be reported to a local animal control agency.
To protect animals and humans, state law requires dogs and cats over the age of 4 months to be vaccinated against rabies.
"If [people are] going to adopt a cat or a dog, it really is up to the owner to love the animal and provide everything it needs, including rabies vaccination," said Devine.
Area organizations hold free rabies clinics throughout the year, Devine said. The Front Royal Humane Society held one earlier this month and plans another for November. In Frederick County, Petneuter.org provides $10 rabies vaccines at its Stephens City location. Call 540-868-0000 for more information. For a list of upcoming rabies clinics in the Lord Fairfax district, visit the Virginia Department of Health's website at http://tiny.cc/rb9bix
Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org