Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District Advises District Residents of Rabid Feral Cat in Madison County

January 20, 2022

Media Contact: Risk Communications Manager Lorrie Andrew-Spear, lorrie.andrew-spear@vdh.virginia.gov

Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District Advises District Residents of Rabid Feral Cat in Madison County
Feral cat was found in the Shiffletts Corner area

(Madison, Va.) — In order to protect the health of our residents, the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District (RRHD) is issuing a notice about a feral cat that has tested positive for rabies in the Shiffletts Corner area of Madison County.

A feral cat was found dead at a private residence in the Shiffletts Corner community Thursday, January 13.  The local health department sent the cat to the Virginia State Lab for rabies testing.  It was reported positive Wednesday, January 19.  The local health department has contacted all identified individuals who may have had contact with the feral cat and has assessed individual needs for rabies post-exposure shots.

The health district encourages everyone to please speak with your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors, including elderly and disabled contacts, about rabies and the importance of leaving feral animals alone.  It is important to keep pets and livestock up to date on their rabies vaccinations.  Individuals who have had recent contact or been bitten by a feral cat or wild animal should contact their primary care provider or local health department for further evaluation and medical recommendations.

To report a rabies exposure incident, contact the Madison Environmental Health Office at (540) 948-5481, or Madison Animal Control at (540) 948-7042.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system.  The virus is found only in the saliva and brain tissue of an infected mammal (the virus is not found in birds, fish, insects or reptiles) and is most commonly spread when an infected animal bites a human or pet.  Less often, virus may also be spread when infected saliva or brain tissue comes into contact with an open would or mucous membrane (eye, mouth, nose).

Symptoms of the virus in animals include abnormal behaviors such as difficulty swallowing (causing fear of drinking aka “hydrophobia” and foaming around the mouth), poor balance, paralysis and seizures.  Some, but not all rabid animals can become aggressive and attack.  Once symptoms of rabies begin, the illness progresses quickly and is nearly 100% fatal within a couple of days.  In Virginia, the virus is most commonly identified in “high risk” wild animals such as bats, foxes, raccoons and skunks.  Rabies is occasionally found in domestic animals (dogs, cats and livestock) with nearly all due to no vaccination history and exposure to the virus.  Examples of this include imported dogs from rabies-endemic countries and unmanaged feral cat colonies.  Annual counts of laboratory confirmed rabies cases in Virginia by county and species are available from 1999 through September 2021 at www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/statistics/.

Steps to prevent the spread of Rabies:

To protect pets and their owners from rabies, Virginia law requires that all dogs and cats four months of age and older be vaccinated for rabies by a licensed veterinarian, and that vaccinations be kept current.  Low cost rabies vaccination clinics are available throughout the area and can be found by searching “low cost rabies vaccinations near me” on your smart phone or internet-enabled device.

Additional Steps to Protect Against Rabies Exposure:

  • Make your home less inviting to wildlife!  Do not feed stray or wild animals, and make sure to feed pets indoors.
  • Store garbage and pet food indoors if possible.  If trash and pet food are stored outside make sure that the container is secure and animal proof.
  • Teach children to avoid all contact with wild or stay animals.
  • Do not handle, attempt to care for or dispose of sick, injured or dead animals.  Contact animal control or the non-emergency police number for assistance.
  • Keep wild animals such as bats out of your home by capping chimneys with screens and blocking openings in attics.  Unlocked dog doors and open windows without screens can also be inviting to wildlife.
  • If you observe any stray or sick looking animals in the area, do not attempt to catch or kill it.  Contact your local animal control for assistance.
  • If a bat is found indoors and may have had contact with someone, do not release it.  Call animal control for assistance.  A health department public health nurse or environmental health specialist will contact you to determine whether the bat needs to be tested for rabies.
  • If you are bitten by a wild or stray animal do not panic. Wash the wound(s) thoroughly with warm soapy water and contact animal control, your doctor or the local Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District office for further recommendations.

For additional information on rabies, visit Rabies Control – Animal Contact & Human Health (virginia.gov).  For additional information about the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District, the communities we serve and telephone numbers for local offices, visit www.RRHD.org.

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