A raccoon with rabies attacked a person near Mount Jackson, the Lord Fairfax Health District reported on Wednesday.

The raccoon, which attacked without provocation, was caught in the vicinity of Georgetown Road west of town in Shenandoah County, according to a district news release. The animal was euthanized and tested positive for rabies.

Rabies reports have been up around the region this year, said Dr. Colin Greene, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers the city of Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren.

Last month, a raccoon in Warren and a skunk in Shenandoah tested positive for rabies, and so far this month two raccoons in Shenandoah have tested positive.

This is also not the first case this year involving a human, Greene said on Wednesday.

“This one was particularly obvious, if you will,” he said. “The raccoon actually spontaneously attacked someone.”

That is extremely abnormal behavior for a raccoon, he said, except in cases where the raccoon is rabid or perhaps is a mother protecting babies.

Greene didn’t have any information on the victim’s condition, but he said, “I gather the person’s OK.”

When treated soon after an attack, rabies in humans is almost always curable. However, he said if it isn’t caught quickly enough, it’s almost 100 percent fatal.

Rabies is spread through an animal’s saliva, Greene said. The disease destroys the animal’s brain and gets into the salivary glands. That’s how it’s spread to next victim, he said.

Most cases of rabies are found in “the big four” – foxes, skunks, raccoons and bats. Next common, he said, would be feral cats, because they can come into frequent contact with wild animals.

“People really shouldn’t keep or support feral cat colonies,” Greene said. It’s highly risky for humans or domestic animals to interact with feral cats, which he said can carry many diseases in addition to rabies.

Large mammals and livestock are susceptible to rabies, though Greene said smaller mammals like squirrels, mice and rats are rarely found to have rabies. He said that might be because they’re less likely to survive an attack with a rabid animal.

Though the raccoon from Mount Jackson no longer poses a threat, the district encourages people to receive immediate medical evaluation for themselves or their pets if they came in contact with a raccoon in that area between May 8 and 18.

Take the following steps to prevent families and pets from rabies exposure:

•Never approach or touch wild animals, especially any raccoon, fox, skunk or bat, particularly if it is behaving oddly or if it is seen in the daylight. These animals are the main carriers of rabies in the eastern United States.

•Avoid stray cats and dogs. Feral or unknown cats and dogs may also carry rabies. Report bites or scratches from these animals to your physician or the Health Department.

•Vaccinate all cats, dogs and ferrets against rabies (even if they don’t go outdoors) and keep their shots up to date.

•Do not feed wild animals or stray cats and dogs. Eliminate outdoor food sources around the home.

•Keep pets confined to your property or walk them on a leash.

•If one of your domestic animals is bitten or otherwise interacts with a wild animal, notify the local Health Department and animal control officer at once.

•Anyone bitten, scratched or licked by any of these animals should seek medical attention immediately, the district advises. Rabies is fatal to both animals and humans once symptoms begin, but it can be prevented in humans if they receive a vaccine and medication soon after exposure.

If in doubt, or if you have any questions, call the Shenandoah County Health Department at 540-459-3733.

Greene said the round of rabies vaccines for humans is quicker and less scary than it used to be.

“It’s nothing like the shots in the belly [from 40 years ago],” he said. “Those are long gone.”

Now, someone being treated for rabies, will receive two shots in the arm on the first day of treatment, followed by one more shot on day 3, day 7 and day 14.

The idea is to get the body’s immune system ready to fight rabies before the rabies has a chance to attack it, Greene said.

If a vaccinated animal is attacked, Greene said the health department recommends a 45-day observation period for the animal to show symptoms, since the disease takes several weeks to incubate and attack the nervous system in an infected mammal.

A pet that attacks someone and is suspected of having rabies will be watched for 10 days, he explained, since "the virus doesn't get into the salivary glands until the last few days of a rabid animal's life."

If it's still alive and well 10 days later, he explained, "it wasn't spreading rabies at the time of the attack, and the person who was attacked isn't in danger."

This rule is limited to cats, dogs and ferrets, because they're the only animals the department has enough data for, but he said it would also apply to most mammals kept as pets.

Rabies isn’t common in Virginia but does pose a threat to people and animals every year.

In the first three months of this year, the health district reported cases of rabies in Page (one) and Warren (four), according to the website www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/statistics, although the district later reported seven cases so far in Warren. Greene said Clarke and the Winchester/Frederick area have each reported a rabies case this year. This most recent attack was the third reported in Shenandoah since mid-April.

In 2018, statistics for the region show three cases in Clarke, six in Frederick, one in Page, three in Winchester, and eight each in Shenandoah and Warren. These cases involved foxes, skunks, raccoons, three cats, one dog and two bats. One cow in nearby Rockingham County was also reported to have rabies last year.

Last year’s numbers exceeded those in 2017 for Clarke, Shenandoah and Warren. Frederick has six cases both years. Page had two cases (skunks) in 2017 and one (fox) in 2018.

For more information, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/rabies-control.

For more information, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/lord-fairfax.

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This story has been updated to include the following information:

If a vaccinated animal is attacked, Greene said the health department recommends a 45-day observation period for the animal to show symptoms, since the disease takes several weeks to incubate and attack the nervous system in an infected mammal.

A pet that attacks someone and is suspected of having rabies will be watched for 10 days, he explained, since "the virus doesn't get into the salivary glands until the last few days of a rabid animal's life."

If it's still alive and well 10 days later, he explained, "it wasn't spreading rabies at the time of the attack, and the person who was attacked isn't in danger."

This rule is limited to cats, dogs and ferrets, because they're the only animals the department has enough data for, but he said it would also apply to most mammals kept as pets.

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com