(WFXR) — The number of rabies cases reported in Carroll County, Grayson County, and Galax has grown over the last year, so health officials are urging both people and pet owners to be aware of how to prevent rabies.

At least nine warnings have been issued about rabid animals in these three localities over the last year, including a fox in Galax in January, a raccoon in Galax in February, another raccoon in Galax in February, a cat in Galax in March, a raccoon in Grayson County in June, a groundhog in Galax that was found in August and confirmed as rabid in September, a skunk in Grayson County in September, a cat in Carroll County in October, and a skunk in Grayson County in October.

According to the Mount Rogers Health District, rabies can be prevented by keeping your pets and livestock up to date on their rabies vaccinations, avoiding interactions with wildlife, and promptly seeking medical care after potential exposures for either domestic animals or humans.

Rabies is a viral disease of the nervous system that can affect all mammals, including humans. The virus is most commonly transmitted by the bite of an infected animal, but may also be spread by contact with infectious matter. The virus travels slowly from the infection site through the nervous system to the brain, and can take from two weeks to several months for symptoms to appear. Infected individuals/animals may appear healthy during this time, and bite wounds may heal normally. Once symptoms appear, rabies is 100% fatal.

Most rabies infections in our area include skunk, raccoon, bats, and foxes. While less common, rabies also occurs locally in groundhogs, equines, and cattle. Among domestic animals, cats are most commonly infected.  Contrary to false memes on social media, the Virginia opossum can also carry rabies.

Exposure to bats is the main cause of domestically-acquired human rabies in the United States. A bat found in your house is potentially an exposure, and should be reported, even if no contact was witnessed or remembered. The teeth of bats are tiny and extremely sharp, allowing bites to go unnoticed.

For humans exposed to rabies, post-exposure treatment is available, and is considered 100% effective at preventing rabies if followed on schedule. In order to work, this treatment must be started soon after exposure. Intervention for exposed pets and livestock must also begin promptly. Notify the local health department as soon as possible after any potential rabies exposures – this can save lives.

Mount Rogers Health District

If you or your pets may have been exposed to rabies or have noticed suspicious behavior in wild animals, you are urged to contact your local health department:

  • Grayson County Health Department: 276-773-2961
  • Galax City Health Department: 276-236-6127
  • Carroll County Health Department: 276-730-3180

In a statement on Wednesday, Oct. 27, health officials provided a list of the possible symptoms of clinical rabies:

  • Headache (head pressing in animals)
  • Light sensitivity
  • Erratic behavior
  • Aggression
  • Inability to drink or swallow
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Food refusal
  • Lethargy
  • Impaired balance
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hyper-salivation
  • Lack of fear in wildlife
  • Self-mutilation
  • Coma
  • Death

The health district says that some infected animals are more likely to show depressive behavior — isolating and refusing to move — while others become hyper-aggressive.

After the onset of clinical symptoms, health officials say animals generally die from the disease within 10 days.

According to Wednesday’s statement, rabies testing samples are taken from the head or neck area of an animal, so keep this in mind if an animal is dead or needs to be euthanized.

You can learn more about rabies by following this link.

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