by Kate Evans
The Morgan County Health Department issued a rabies alert for Mae Butts Lane in Berkeley Springs last Tuesday, January 21.
Mae Butts Lane is located off Spohrs Road near Peter Yost Road in eastern Morgan County off of Martinsburg Road.
Health Department officials said in their social media alert that the West Virginia Office of Laboratory Services had notified them of a positive test result for a rabies virus from a cat that had bit its owner. The cat was having neurological issues and was euthanized and then sent to the state lab by the Health Department.
Berkeley/Morgan County Sanitarian Chief Cara Harding said that the cat was someone’s outside pet that was unvaccinated and it looked like it had tangled with some kind of animal.
The Health Department wanted to notify residents in the area in case they or their pets may have been exposed to the cat, which was a female cat with white fur and orange markings.
Exposure to rabies can occur from a bite, 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.
The Health Department is state-mandated to follow up with people that have been exposed to rabies, Harding said.
There is post-exposure treatment for individuals if an animal is suspected of being rabid. Any person who has been bitten by or exposed to a potentially rabid animal should see a physician immediately.
If people think they or their animals may have come into contact with the cat to this cat, they should call the Morgan County Health Department at 304-258-1513 or Morgan County Animal Control at 304-258-6363.
Officials also noted that it’s the law that cats and dogs must be vaccinated against rabies.
Harding said the Health Department hadn’t had any calls from the Mae Butts Lane area after the rabies alert.
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.
Officials urged people to keep themselves, their family and their pets safe by keeping their pets up to date on their vaccines. Make sure your animals’ rabies vaccinations are current and avoid contact with wildlife, they added.
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. They can appear to be in a drunken state as in falling over and can also be aggressive and coming towards you, said Harding.
Animals that most frequently transmit rabies in West Virginia are raccoons, foxes and skunks, Harding said. Dogs and cats also get rabies because of the animals with which they come into contact.
Harding recalled two rabies cases last year in Morgan County-one was a rabid fox and the other a rabid kitten. If foxes, raccoons and skunks are seen in the daytime hours, it’s something to cause concern since they are nocturnal animals.
“Rabies is in Morgan County,” she noted.
They’re starting to see more positive test results for rabies and are encouraging people to get their animals vaccinated for it, Harding said. People also have to be concerned if their pet tangles with a wild animal. If this occurs to a pet that has been vaccinated for rabies, owners are required to quarantine their pet for 10 days.
If an unvaccinated pet tangles with a rabid animal or an unknown wild animal that can’t be tested, a double quarantine with two pens — one with an inside perimeter and another outside barrier — is required for six months, Harding said.
Harding hoped the rabid cat was an isolated case of rabies. She said that some people feed stray cats and don’t understand the risks of contact with feral cats or wildlife. She advised residents to watch for county rabies clinics for their pets or to contact a veterinarian about whether their animals are up-to-date on rabies vaccinations.