A raccoon killed by two dogs in the Cheat Lake area tested positive for rabies, according to the Monongalia County Health Department.
The dogs are being treated, as is their owner.
In a press release, the health department said the raccoon was behaving oddly when it was killed by the dogs on Feb. 7 on property on Tyrone Avery Road.
Health department officials received confirmation this week, and said it is the first confirmed rabies case of 2019.
The owner cleaned up her dogs, which had been vaccinated for rabies, and bagged up the raccoon and took it to the Monongalia County Canine Adoption Center.
From there, it was sent to the state lab for testing. The dogs were re-vaccinated and will be confined and observed for 45 days. The owner, who was possibly exposed to rabies, is undergoing rabies post-exposure prophylaxis treatment.
“We have not had a positive rabies case in the Cheat Lake area in a long time, but we know there is rabies in all parts of Monongalia County,” said Jon W. Welch, a registered sanitarian and program manager of MCHD Environmental Health.
MCHD urges everyone to avoid animals they do not know, including raccoons and bats. This warning applies year-round.
Pet owners who have not gotten their dogs and cats vaccinated for rabies should do so immediately, the health department said.
In 2018, Monongalia County had four confirmed cases of rabies: two in raccoons that had encounters with pets and two involving cats. Three of the incidents took place in the National area and one on Grafton Road.
The best deterrent to raccoon activity is prevention. Raccoons will look for homes where food is easy to find. MCHD urged residents to take the following measures to deter raccoons and avoid rabies, which is transmitted via saliva through a bite or scratch:
Keep rabies vaccinations up to date.
Seal garbage cans tightly. 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.
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.
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. Second is to have a person with a West Virginia hunting license trap the animal during raccoon hunting season. The last option is to contact their local West Virginia Department of Natural Resources 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. 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 rabies risk.
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, an increase in saliva, difficulty swallowing and fear of water. Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.