Environmental Health Services

Rabies Prevention

Rabies is a virus that attacks the central nervous system of warm blooded animals, including human beings.  It is generally always fatal (there are now only 3 documented patients who have survived this infection worldwide) if not treated before the virus enters the brain.  If a dog, cat, or ferret bites or otherwise exposes a human being and the animal is available, we enforce a ten-day confinement period, during which the animal’s health is monitored. If the animal’s rabies vaccine is not current, the animal will be confined for the 10 day period in the county animal shelter or, if the owner requests, at a local veterinarian at owner’s expense.   If the dog, cat or ferret is dead, the animal’s brain tissue can be tested for the presence of rabies virus if done rather quickly after death.  If an animal other than a dog, cat, or ferret is involved, the animal must be euthanized and the brain tested for the presence of rabies virus, as the incubation period for the virus is unknown.  If the offending animal cannot be found or captured, we advise potentially exposed persons, in consultation with their physician and the Health Director, regarding post-exposure treatment.   Whenever a human being sustains an exposure to a mammal in such a manner as rabies is a concern the health department should be notified as soon as possible after the exposure occurs.  Post-exposure treatment (PET) consists of shots of immune globulin and rabies vaccine (a series of 4 injections given over 2 weeks). PET must begin prior to the development of rabies’ symptoms, and is usually started as soon as possible after the exposure, generally within 10-14 days after the bite or exposure. The health department may assist in providing pre-exposure treatment for rabies to persons potentially at-risk to occupational exposure to rabies. Call your local health department for more information.

Food Establishment Permitting and Inspection

The Virginia Department of Health inspects, and subsequently may prevent, facilities that prepare food for public consumption, including but not limited to:  restaurants, school cafeterias, licensed day-care providers, hospital cafeterias, and temporary food service units at events.  VDH environmental health specialists are required to maintain standardization as Food Environmental Health Specialists through the state’s program, which is modeled after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s standardization process.  Classes are offered to food service managers in order to provide an opportunity for them to remain current regarding current food safety practices and regulatory requirements. Call your local health department for information about food safety classes; charges for these classes are only sufficient to cover costs of books/materials.

Onsite Sewage Handling and Disposal

All onsite sewage disposal systems require permitting by the Virginia Department of Health.  Our environmental health specialists (EHS) are certified as Onsite Soil Evaluators through the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation.  EHS conduct site/soil evaluations to determine the suitability for an onsite sewage disposal system.  If a site is found for a conventional septic tank/drainfield system, EHS can issue a permit based on that design and subsequently inspect the installation of that system.  If a conventional septic tank/drainfield system site cannot be found, many alternative onsite sewage disposal system (AOSS) options exist that may be suitable for that site.  EHS may assist an applicant in understanding what options are available, but AOSS’s must be designed by a private practice OSE and/or Professional Engineer.  Using Emergency Regulations adopted July 1, 2009, EHS’s evaluate these designs before a permit is issued.  Owners of AOSS’s installed after July 1, 2009 are required to provide maintenance and monitoring of their system to ensure it performs in a manner that protects public health and the environment. Annual monitoring is required. Also, under this program, sewage handlers (septic tank pumpers) must be permitted and inspected.

Alternative Discharging Sewage Treatment

If no conventional onsite sewage disposal option can be found for a property, there may be an option for installing an alternative discharging sewage treatment system.  The health department issues permits for single family home discharges jointly with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.  Designs for these systems must be submitted by a Professional Engineer.  VDH EHS review the designs, issue a permit based on an approved design, and, post-installation, conduct annual inspections of each discharging system.  Owners of these systems are required to maintain maintenance and monitoring contracts for these systems.

Private Wells

The VDH permits all private drinking, heat pump, and agricultural wells (monitoring wells are excluded).  As part of the permitting process, we locate the well to assure proper set-backs from potential contaminant sources (drain fields, barns, graveyards, etc.) and determine the minimum construction requirements that may be used.  Once installed, wells are inspected to assure they were sited and constructed properly.  Drinking water wells must be tested for bacterial contamination.

Hotel Permitting and Inspection

Hotels are inspected and permitted under the authority of the Rules and Regulations Governing  Hotels.  Plans are required to be reviewed prior to permit issuance for new or remodeled facilities.  Inspections focus on general cleanliness, building upkeep, pool facilities, and insect and rodent control.

Campground Permitting and Inspection

Campgrounds are inspected and permitted under the authority of the Rules and Regulations Governing Campgrounds.  Plans are required to be reviewed prior to permit issuance for new or expanded facilities.  Inspections focus on water supply, sewage disposal, and service building upkeep.

Summer Camp Permitting and Inspection

Summer camps are permitted to and inspected under the authority of the Rules and Regulations Governing Summer Camps.  Summer camp plans are required to be reviewed prior to permit issuance for new or remodeled facilities.  Inspections focus on general cleanliness, water supply, sewage disposal, and swimming facilities.

Migrant Labor Camp Permitting and Inspection

Migrant Labor Camps are permitted and inspected under the authority of the Rules and Regulations Governing Migrant Labor Camps.  Inspections of these facilities focus on water supply, sewage disposal, housing, and garbage pick-up.

Jail Inspections

Local jails are inspected annually under the authority of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Corrections (DOC).  EHS’s inspect for general sanitation and facility upkeep.  Any findings are shared with the jail staff and the DOC’s inspection staff for enforcement.

Lead Risk Assessments

The LENOWISCO Health District maintains a certified lead risk assessor on staff to conduct environmental lead investigations when indicated as a part of a work-up of a child with an elevated blood lead level.  Elevated lead levels, untreated, can cause neurological and developmental abnormalities in children; adults may also be affected by elevated lead levels. The investigation consists of taking and reviewing a thorough medical history to identify possible sources of exposure, and based on this may include sampling paint, dust, soil, and water from the environment in which the child lives, and interviewing families regarding behavior and activities to determine the most likely source(s) of exposure.

Outbreak Investigations

The health department investigates unusual numbers in circumstances of a variety of certain illnesses and conditions, which are reported to the health department. By law, several infectious communicable diseases and certain other conditions must be reported by local physicians, hospitals, and labs. A team of Environmental Health Specialists, Public Health Nurses, Epidemiologists, and the Physician Health Director leads these investigations. When outbreaks are believed to be food or water borne, identification and testing of the potential sources in food and water may be conducted in order to identify the cause of the illness. Education of the public is provided to minimize risk of future outbreaks.

For more information:

In Wise County & the City of Norton, please call 276-328-8000
In Scott County, please call 276-386-1312
In Lee County, please call 276-346-2011