Lord Fairfax Health District Warns Residents of Rabies Risk

August 15, 2019

Media Contact –  Lorrie Andrew-Spear, Lorrie.Andrew-Spear@vdh.virginia.gov

Health Department Offers Tips to Stay Safe

(Winchester, Va.) — On Aug. 11, 2019, a groundhog was found behaving aggressively (a very unusual manner for this type of animal) near Indian Camp Trail in Black Bear Subdivision, near Maurertown in Shenandoah County. The groundhog later tested positive for rabies, according to the Lord Fairfax Health District.

 “This groundhog no longer poses a threat,” stated Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene, “however, it should serve as a reminder that any contact with a medium-to-large wild mammal that could result in exposure to the animal’s saliva should be considered a potential rabies exposure. We most commonly see rabies in raccoons, foxes, skunks, feral cats, and bats, but it is occasionally seen in other mammals such as ground hogs, dogs, and livestock.”

Dr. Greene continued, “The key in this case was the abnormal aggressive behavior of an animal that would normally run from a human; such behavior is typical of an animal in the late stages of rabies.”

Anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to this or any rabid animal should receive an immediate medical evaluation.

 The Health Department further advises:

  • Never approach or touch wild animals, especially any raccoon, fox, skunk or bat, especially if it is behaving oddly or if it is seen in the daylight. These animals are the main carriers of rabies in the eastern United States.
  • Avoid stray cats and dogs. Feral or unknown cats and dogs may also carry rabies. Report bites or scratches from these animals to your physician or the health department.
  • Vaccinate all cats, dogs and ferrets against rabies (even if they don’t go outdoors) and keep their shots up to date. Vaccinate working barn cats as well, for their protection and yours.
  • Do not feed wild animals or stray cats or dogs. Eliminate outdoor food sources near the home.
  • Keep pets confined to your property or walk them on a leash.
  • If one of your domestic animals is bitten or otherwise interacts with a wild animal, notify the local health department and animal control officer at once, and have the animal seen by a veterinarian.

If you are bitten, scratched, or licked by any of these animals, seek medical attention immediately. Rabies is fatal to both animals and humans once symptoms begin, but it can be prevented in humans if they receive vaccine and medication soon after exposure.

Finally, if in doubt, or if you have a question, call the Shenandoah County Health Department at 540-459-3733.

Additional information on rabies is available from the Virginia Department of Health at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/rabies-control/.

The Lord Fairfax Health District serves residents in the city of Winchester and Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties. For more information, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/lord-fairfax/