Fewer rabies cases here than in rest of the state
Morgan County has had a low number of rabies cases in the past 11 years, but the disease is widespread in West Virginia and on the east coast.
From 2000 through November, 2011, Morgan County had 17 animals test positive for rabies, said Health Department sanitarian Bruce Ullom.
Of those, there were seven raccoons, five foxes, two skunks, two cats and one bobcat with confirmed rabies. There were no cases of rabies in 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2009.
In 2010 and 2011, one cat tested positive. No dogs or bats tested had rabies during the past 11 years.
Rabies in raccoons is common in West Virginia. The state had 1,185 cases from 2000 through 2010, including 755 including raccoons.
The animal that most frequently has rabies is the raccoon, but the disease has also been found in cows, deer, horses, sheep, goats, groundhogs, bobcats, beavers, otter, coyotes and opossums. Rabies is seen a lot in foxes and skunks.
Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and the nervous system. Rabies, if treated immediately, is preventable. If left untreated, rabies is fatal in humans and animals.
Animals with rabies act strangely, drool, have unsteady gait and are unable to drink water.
Most animal bites happen between pet owners and their dogs. Sometimes people step on their animals in the middle of the night and get bitten. They tend to get a rash of dog bites in the spring and also in the fall. It may be due to animals getting friskier during the weather change, Ullom said.
They just had four animal bites occur in the last few weeks. One was from a cat. The other three bites involved dogs.
One victim was a Morgan County resident that was bitten in Berkeley County. Berkeley County Health Department sent off a sample for rabies testing, but they followed up with the victim, Ullom said. The sample came back negative for rabies.
The county had 44 reported animal bites from July, 2010 through June, 2011.
Doctors are required by law to notify the Health Department about animal bites within 24 hours.
They usually prefer to go with quarantine and observation in a bite situation unless it’s a wild animal, Ullom said.
If vaccinated for rabies, a dog that had bitten someone would be quarantined for 10 days. If the dog didn’t show symptoms of rabies within the 10 days, that means they weren’t contagious at the time of the bite.
Quarantine for a dog that wasn’t vaccinated for rabies and was exposed to a rabid animal could go on up to six months.
By law, people who own a dog or a cat in West Virginia must get them vaccinated against rabies by the age of six months.
The vaccine administered should be capable of providing immunity for three years, with a booster shot given one year after the initial vaccination and every third year afterwards.
Contact with saliva of a rabid animal through a bite is considered exposure.
Exposure to rabies can also occur if a scratch from an infected animal breaks the skin or if its infected saliva comes into contact with open cuts, abrasions or wounds or with mucus membranes such as the mouth, eyes or nose.
Any person who has been bitten by or exposed to a potentially rabid animal should see a physician immediately.
Post-exposure treatment is recommended if an animal is suspected of having rabies. A series of shots that include rabies immunoglobulin and the rabies vaccine are administered to people who have been exposed to rabies, Ullom said.
People shouldn’t be apprehensive about getting rabies shots because they are much different now and are given in the arm, leg or back cheek and not the abdomen, said Health Department consultant Lee Fowler.
Health officials’ role
The decision to pursue rabies shots is between the victim and their medical provider. The Health Department contacts the person who was bitten and follows up on whether they are continuing their medical care and post-exposure shots.
The Health Department also contacts the dog owner and asks for the animal’s vaccination records.
They also contact the bite victim after 10 days to let them know if the quarantined animal was determined to have rabies.
An aerial and ground oral rabies vaccine bait drop program has been instituted from Maine to Georgia to vaccinate raccoons against rabies. The aim of the program is to keep rabies from spreading from eastern states to the west.