May 29, 2020

Media Contact: Dr. Wade Kartchner, Health Director, Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District –wade.kartchner@vdh.virginia.gov


(Warrenton, Va.) – The Fauquier County Health Department is reminding residents of the valuable role they play in preventing the spread of rabies in the region. Confirmed rabies cases in the county are on the rise this year with 12 so far in 2020, an increase from the six total cases confirmed in 2019 (see http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/statistics/ for additional rabies statistics). Rabies positive species this year have included raccoons, foxes, and cats. Keep in mind, diagnostic laboratory testing is only performed if a person or domestic animal has been potentially exposed to rabies.

Oftentimes, it is our pets that are the first line of defense when a rabid animal approaches the home. Ensure your pets are protected and keep their vaccinations up to date. State law requires all dogs and cats over the age of four months to be vaccinated against rabies. In addition to keeping pets’ vaccinations up-to-date, people should remember that when they feed or care for stray or feral animals that unless they take the steps to vaccinate those animals they could be putting themselves and their own companion animals at risk for exposure to rabies.

Rabies is a deadly disease that only affects mammals and is caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. Once a person or animal starts showing clinical signs of rabies, survival is rare. The rabies virus is in the saliva and the brain of rabid animals. The most common way rabies is transmitted is through the bite of an infected mammal. Rarely, rabies can be transmitted by getting saliva or brain tissue in the eyes, nose, mouth, or in an open wound.

If you are bitten, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and lots of water. If possible, capture the animal under a large box or can, or at least identify it before it runs away. Don’t try to pick the animal up and don’t damage the head of any animal that might need to be tested for rabies. Call an animal control officer to come get the animal. Notify your doctor immediately and explain how you got the bite. Most people know when they have been bitten by a bat, but there are situations in which you should seek medical advice even in the absence of an obvious bite wound. For example, if you wake up to find a bat in your room, see a bat in the room of an unattended child, or see a bat near a mentally impaired or intoxicated person, do not destroy or discard the bat. Call your local health department for advice.

So how can you help to prevent and control rabies?

  • Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and selected livestock. Keep the vaccinations up-to-date.
  • If your pet is attacked or bitten by a wild animal, report it to the local health department or animal control and be prepared to assist with rabies exposure response activities such as booster vaccination and confinement.
  • Limit the possibility of exposure by keeping your animals on your property. Don’t let pets roam free.
  • Do not leave garbage or pet food outside. It may attract wild or stray animals.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets. Enjoy all wild animals from a distance, even if they seem friendly. A rabid animal sometimes acts tame.
  • Contact your local health department if you think you or your pet may have been exposed.

For more information on rabies, visit the Virginia Department of Health’s web page at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/rabies-control/ or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web page at https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/ .

To report a rabies exposure incident, contact the Fauquier Environmental Health Office at (540)347-6363, or Fauquier Animal Control at (540)347-6843.