Everything you need to know about rabies

Published: Nov. 6, 2022 at 5:53 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - This past week, the Virginia Department of Health announced three cases of rabid skunks in our hometowns.

Rabies is caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke Director of Operations Haley Olsen-Hodges says you can’t really know if you have rabies until symptoms show up.

“This is a very rare disease. But it is fatal. So, it’s good to be concerned about it. It’s good to be proactive about it. Just because something is not common doesn’t mean something is not dangerous,” said Olsen-Hodges.

The CDC has only documented fewer than 20 rabid cases where humans survived.

The best protection is prevention. Avoid being bitten, licked, or scratched by wildlife animals. Even if they don’t seem aggressive. Especially those that are more high risk than others.

“So, that’s skunks, raccoons, ground hogs, foxes and bats,” added Olsen-Hodges. “(Those) are my primary vectors that we see here in Virginia.”

However, all mammals can get infected with the virus.

“So that also goes for stray cats and stray dogs as well,” explained Olsen-Hodges. “Yes, wildlife is the primary vector. But we are seeing more cases of rabid cats in this area.”

One of the reasons for the increase is people leaving food outside for wildlife. Olsen-Hodges says it helps spread diseases and makes them dependent on food that is not good for them.

“If you care about wild mammals and you do what to take care of them. Plan native plants. Provide habitat features that are good for them,” said Olsen-Hodges.

All animal bites and rabies exposures must be reported to the Roanoke and Alleghany Health Districts Environmental Health Division.