Raccoon tests positive for rabies; MCHD urges to take precautions

A raccoon collected Monday in the National area of Monongalia County has tested positive for rabies.

Monongalia County Health Department officials received confirmation Thursday and made the announcement Friday.

MCHD urges everyone to avoid animals they do not know, including raccoons and bats. These are wild animals that can carry rabies. This warning applies year-round but is especially true during warmer weather months. Area residents also can take precautions to help keep raccoons and other pests out of their homes and away from their properties.

Also, pet owners who have not gotten their dogs and cats vaccinated for rabies should do so.

This is the first confirmed case of rabies in Monongalia County in 2018, but the area has had rabies before and residents should be on alert.

Although they may look harmless, raccoons can be a nuisance and, in some cases, downright dangerous. This is especially true if they are infected with rabies, a viral disease found in mammals that attacks the nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov). It is transmitted via saliva through a bite or scratch.

The best deterrent to raccoon activity is prevention.

MCHD recommendations:

Keep pets’ rabies vaccinations up to date.

Seal garbage cans tight. Raccoons have opposable thumbs and can remove any loose or broken lids.

Don’t feed raccoons. Feed outside pets during the day and don’t leave food or water dishes outside after dark when raccoons are likely to be looking for food and water.

Control access to the home. Inspect houses thoroughly to find any holes or crevices where raccoons could enter. They can get through surprisingly small spaces. This includes chimneys, attic vents and seams along roofs and baseboards.

Watch out for raccoons or other strange animals that are active during the day, move erratically and/or are not afraid of humans. They may have rabies. If you suspect there is a rabid raccoon on your property, contact a licensed animal control specialist.

Scare tactics don’t work. Banging pots and pans may be a temporary raccoon deterrent, but raccoons are persistent. They will come back long after you’ve given up. Water-sprayer raccoon deterrents are also widely available. They hook up to your hose and use a motion detector to scare off raccoons. They will work for as long as it takes raccoons to find a way around them.

Although there are no approved repellents, toxicants or fumigants for raccoon problems, some chemical raccoon deterrents are commercially available. These include mixtures of coyote urine and other natural repellents. Also, some research shows that mothballs may keep raccoons out of enclosed spaces in a home.

In extreme cases, traps may be used. There are three ways a landowner can legally trap a raccoon and properly release it. The most recommended option is to contact a licensed animal removal specialist. They have the most knowledge and training to properly and humanely remove wild animals. Second is to have a person with a West Virginia hunting license trap the animal during raccoon hunting season. The last option would be for landowners to contact their local West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officer and apply for a Wildlife Damage Permit to trap the animal themselves.

Usually, traps must be of the “humane” variety — cages that trap the animal without harming it. Trapping a raccoon humanely is important to prevent injury to the raccoon. Getting rid of a raccoon should be carried out with proper planning and procedures. Releasing the raccoon back into its environment properly is important.

Catching a baby raccoon and keeping it as a pet is against the law. The DNR stopped issuing pet permits for raccoons in 2006 because of the potential risk of rabies.

Early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to other illnesses, such as fever, headache and general weakness and discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (an increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing and fear of water. Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.

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