Two people attacked by rabid cat

A rabid cat bit two residents of the Mountain Falls Park Subdivision in Winchester.

Colin Greene, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, said that a white-and-black stray cat bit the residents in two separate attacks.

“The cat bit them and scratched them and actually kind of hung onto their leg,” Greene said. “And again, this cat came out of nowhere and attacked the people.”

Greene said that someone captured the cat following the second incident. The cat was then sent to the health department, where it was euthanized and tested for rabies.

The test came back positive.

“Given the cat’s behavior, that’s not particularly surprising, because unprovoked attacks are typical of rabid animals,” Greene said.

Greene said that the two attacks happened a few blocks apart in the Mountain Falls Park Subdivision. According to a news release, both attacks occurred on Sept. 14.

Greene said that people in the neighborhood who may have been attacked by the cat between Sept. 5 and Sept. 14 should seek medical attention and that people whose animals may have been attacked in the neighborhood should have the animals looked at. Rabies can only be spread through physical contact, he noted.

“You can’t just catch rabies by being near this cat,” Greene said. There actually has to be physical contact. So a bite or a deep scratch or saliva in the eye, for example — something like that.”

Greene added that any other attacks likely would have occurred in the same neighborhood as the two reported attacks.

“The cat probably didn’t travel all that far,” Greene said. “But we don’t know that absolutely. It’s a fairly secluded area.”

Greene said that it is unlikely that the cat would have been able to spread rabies prior to Sept. 5.

“The animal only sheds the virus for about 10 days before it dies,” Greene said. “So if it was an exposure earlier than the fifth of September, the cat probably would not be spreading the disease.”

This 10-day period is known as the “active rabies period,” Greene said, and is the only point in which the disease can be spread.

“That’s where the virus starts to damage the central nervous system, so [the animals] go crazy and start biting everybody,” Greene said. “That’s why abnormal behavior and aggressive behavior or an unprovoked attack is suspicious.”

Rabies, in animals and humans, is almost always fatal once symptoms develop. But prior to then, it can be treated.

Greene said that people who are exposed to rabies receive a shot of immune globulin, which strengthens the immune system and prevents infection, and four rabies vaccine shots. Those shots prevent the disease from reaching the central nervous system.

“The sooner after the exposure takes place, the better the result,” Greene said. “But any time before the onset of the symptoms of the rabies is still worth doing. Once the symptoms start, then it doesn’t help any more. Then, usually, it’s not good. Fortunately, most people don’t get that far.”

Greene had no information on the condition of the people who were bitten.

Greene added that anyone who expects that they or their pets may have been attacked by the cat should contact the Lord Fairfax Health District at  540-722-3480. The health district also plans on putting out flyers in the neighborhood where the previous attacks occurred.