Confirmed Warren County rabies case reminds of risk

By Josette Keelor

A cat in Warren County has tested positive for rabies.

On Oct. 15, the cat, described as a domestic short hair, yellow and white in color, attacked three people in the vicinity of Va. 649 or Browntown Road and Va. 622 Buck Mountain Road/Liberty Hall Road, according to a news release from the Warren County Health Department.

This is the fifth cat that has tested positive for rabies in Warren County this year. Though not a comparatively high number, Dr. Charles Devine III, health director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, said the number is reflective only of animals determined to have had exposure to rabies.

Since the start of summer, there were two other attacks — one on Sept. 29 on Fletcher Street in Front Royal near the biking trail, and the other on June 24 near Andrick’s Front Royal Flea Market at the intersection of Main Street and Commerce Avenue.

Other confirmed cases involved six skunks, two raccoons, a fox and a goat.

As always, following a confirmed rabies case, the health district and Warren County Sheriff’s Office have reminded residents of the importance of vaccinating domestic pets and farm animals against rabies.

“I would say it’s very important because … any wild mammal has the potential to have rabies” and can give it to a domestic animal, Devine said, adding that animals can pass the virus on to humans.

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that lives in saliva and tissue in the brain and nerves of an infected animal. Once symptoms begin, Devine said, “It’s too late to prevent it, they already have it, and there is no successful treatment for rabies.”

The people attacked by the cat this month were successfully treated to prevent rabies, he said.

By state law, all dogs, cats and ferrets must have a current vaccination against the virus as soon as a veterinarian determines the animal is old enough.

Dogs and cats 4 months or older must be vaccinated, Devine said. Rabies vaccines can be given as early as 3 months and one product is approved for kittens at 8 weeks.

Other ways of preventing the spread of rabies:

• Avoid contact with wild animals or stray cats and dogs.
• Do not feed stray or wild animals.
• Report strays to a local animal control agency.
• Eliminate outdoor food sources around the home.
• Keep pets confined to one’s property or walk them on a leash.
• Ensure all animal bites are reported to the health department or animal control.

“Most stray and most wild animals don’t have rabies, so we don’t want everyone inordinately afraid,” Devine said. However, “the probability is that any stray or any wild animal may have rabies.”

He said it’s not enough to keep pets leashed without vaccinating them.

“We’ve had instances where rabid raccoons have run out of the woods and attacked a dog on a leash,” he said.

The Warren County cats confirmed with rabies this year were not claimed by anyone, though Devine said all but two were being fed by people — a dangerous practice he discouraged since doing so can attract other animals that might carry rabies.

In addition to having pets vaccinated, he encourages the public to call for help when dealing with a possible rabies exposure. Unfortunately, he said, some pet owners prematurely fear losing their animal after an attack.

Vaccinated pets usually can remain at home and monitored for signs of distress before being cleared as healthy.

Fewer cases result in having to condemn the animal, and that’s only if the pet isn’t up to date on vaccinations.

“We had that situation,” he said. “We hate having to make those decisions, and those decisions are not necessary. If the animal is vaccinated, it’s not necessary to do that. But it breaks my heart every time I have to order that.”

For more information, contact the Warren County Sheriff’s Office animal control department at 540-635-4128 or the health district’s Warren County department at 540-635-3159.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com