Following its seventh rabies case linked to Warren County this year, the Lord Fairfax Health District is reminding area residents to vaccinate their pets and keep vaccinations current.
On April 8, a raccoon was captured on King David Drive in the Apple Mountain subdivision of Linden, according to a news release from the health district. The raccoon tested positive for rabies.
This is the sixth rabid raccoon reported in the county so far this year. The seventh animal was a cat from a feral cat colony, said Dr. Colin Greene, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District for the Virginia Department of Health.
If that seems like a lot, Greene agrees.
“It seems like a lot to me too,” Greene said on Wednesday.
“I don’t think there’s been more than one or two in each of my jurisdictions,” he said. “We just turned up a bunch of them in Warren.”
The Lord Fairfax Health District serves residents in the city of Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren.
Greene recalled the cat was being treated by a veterinarian outside the county when it tested positive for rabies, and he guesses it might have come in contact with one of the raccoons.
The raccoon captured this month is known to have interacted with two dogs, but the district’s news release said both dogs were up to date on their rabies shots. The dogs received booster shots and are on 45-day confinement, which is normal procedure for a vaccinated animal that may have been exposed to rabies.
Anyone who was bitten, scratched, or otherwise exposed to the saliva of a raccoon around April 8 in the area of King David Drive should seek immediate care at the nearest emergency department.
This is crucial, Greene said. Once symptoms begin, rabies is fatal.
“It takes at least several weeks between the exposure...until the symptoms show up,” he said.
Symptoms among exposed animals include strange or atypical behavior, such as normally docile pets acting aggressively, or wild animals approaching humans.
Virginia law requires all domestic animals to be vaccinated against rabies, whether or not they go outside. Greene said this is particularly important for cats, dogs and ferrets, but that some farm animals might also need to be vaccinated, such as horses.
In addition to vaccinating pets and keeping vaccinations current, the health district has advised pet owners take the following steps to protect family members and pets from rabies:
• Avoid contact with wild animals or stray cats and dogs
• Do not feed wild animals or stray cats and dogs
• Report stray animals to your local animal control agency
• Eliminate outdoor food sources around the home
• Keep pets confined to your property or walk them on a leash.
Rabies cases in the area are not common. In 2017, the Virginia Department of Health reported only two positive rabies cases in Warren County through Sept. 30 of that year, which is the most recent reporting period listed at www.vdh.virginia.gov/">http://www.vdh.virginia.gov. Both cases involved raccoons.
Page County also had two confirmed cases during that period. Shenandoah and Rappahannock counties each had three cases; Frederick and Rockingham had five. Clarke County and Winchester didn’t list any reported cases during that time.
Cases of rabies in Virginia have been steadily decreasing since 2011, according to a graph posted at www.vdh.virginia.gov. Since recording started in 1945, the biggest spikes in cases around Virginia were in 1983, 1997, and 2007.
Greene said he doesn’t have any specific answers for the apparent increase of cases in Warren County this year, since the cases aren’t localized to the same area.
“Not specifically, but rabies is out there,” he said.
Human rabies cases are also rare around the area.
“Over the last, I’d say 20 years, there’s been a handful of cases,” Greene said. Many of those involved people who had been traveling overseas, where he said the bigger risk is from dog bites.
Anyone traveling in a non-western country who suffers a dog bite needs to be treated as soon as possible, he said.
Common sources of rabies around the U.S. are foxes, skunks, raccoons and bats. Bats, in particular, spread rabies so easily through saliva that Greene said any instance of a human sleeping in a room with a bat is considered by the Health Department to be an immediate exposure requiring treatment.
For more information, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/rabies-control or call the Warren County Health Department or call the health department at 540-635-3159