WINCHESTER, Va. (WHSV) — There was an increase in the number of rabies cases in the northern Shenandoah Valley during the first half of the year, according to a health official.
Dr. Colin Greene, the director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, said 22 cases have been confirmed so far in 2019. The figure is higher than it was at this same time in the last couple of years.
The district includes the counties of Page, Shenandoah, Warren and Frederick and the City of Winchester.
Most of the cases involved raccoons, foxes, feral cats and skunks, according to Dr. Greene.
Rabies transmission requires contact between a rabid animal's saliva or central nervous system tissue with a fresh wound or a mucous membrane like the eye, mouth, or nose.
One rabies symptoms begin, the disease is 100% fatal, but it can be easily prevented if treatment begins immediately after exposure.
In several of the recent cases in the Valley, humans were attacked.
While a rabies case cannot be absolutely confirmed unless an animal is put down and examined, Dr. Greene said unusual behavior can be a tell-tale sign.
"You would never expect a raccoon to approach you, for example, but if a raccoon approached you, especially in an aggressive manner, that would be extremely risky," he said.
Thirty total cases were reported in the district throughout all of 2018, according to Dr. Greene, who said the district is now on track for around 40 this year.
Dr. Greene said anyone who believes he or she may have come into contact with a rabid animal should seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
"There is a treatment to prevent rabies and if you wait until the rabies tend to start, which takes from weeks to months, at that point, the person is going to die," he said. "It's a fatal disease if the symptoms actually start."
Dr. Greene noted the rarity of a person dying from the disease.
To prevent the spread of rabies, he recommended all pets be vaccinated — including those who primarily live indoors. He also advised against feeding stray cats.
If a pet owner is in doubt whether their dog or cat has rabies, Dr. Greene said the health department can help, so give them a call.
In addition to keeping pets vaccinated and keeping vaccinations current, the Lord Fairfax Health District says to take these steps to protect family members and pets from rabies:
• Avoid contact with 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.
• Do not feed wild animals or 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.
• Report stray animals to your local animal control agency
• If the attack is from a cat, dog, or ferret, try to identify or capture it if possible. Rabies can be ruled out if these animals are observed to remain healthy for ten days.
• Eliminate outdoor food sources around the home
• Keep pets confined to your property or walk them on a leash.
• If you are bitten, scratched, or licked by any of these animals, seek medical attention immediately. Rabies is fatal to both animals and humans once symptoms begin, but it can be prevented in humans if they receive vaccine and medication soon after exposure.
For more information, or if you have questions about a possible exposure, visit vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/rabies-control/.