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Parts of county re-added to rabies vaccination zone

The United States Department of Agriculture is redoubling its anti-rabies efforts in Monongahela County this year. The USDA will drop over 49,000 Oral Rabies Vaccines through most of the county from Aug. 22 to Sept. 5.

“We do it in the fall, which is at a time when raccoons and other animals have given birth to their young and are now eating ‘table food,’ ” said executive director of the Monongalia County Health Department, Dr. Lee Smith. “We want the young to eat and be vaccinated by these oral vaccines.”

Established in 1997, the National Rabies Management Program works with local, state and federal governments, as well as universities and other partners to prevent the spread of rabies. In recent years, most of Monongalia County fell outside the ORV zone, but this year vaccine baits will be distributed by plane over rural areas and by hand in more populated areas of the county.

“You cannot, as in humans, vaccinate all of them. That’s never going to happen. The efforts of baiting need to be sustained in order to be effective,” Smith said.

The bait, made of dog food or fishmeal, does not pose a risk to animal or human health. If a pet does eat a bait, it is not harmful, but ingesting several could cause an upset stomach. If you encounter bait, leave it alone. If the bait needs to be moved out of a pet or child’s vicinity, wear gloves, use a plastic bag or a paper towel. Wash your hands after touching bait.

Distribution will target areas where rabid wildlife has been identified. Monongalia County has already logged 14 cases of rabid raccoons this year. Nine of the cases were identified through surveillance efforts conducted by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The other five cases resulted from family pet interactions with raccoons that were found to be positive for rabies.

In addition to raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats are common rabies carriers in West Virginia. The Monongalia County Health Department advises that when a family dog, cat or other pet that is a mammal gets into a fight with an animal with rabies, the pet must be re-vaccinated for rabies and observed, or quarantined, depending on the situation.

“Any dog or cat beyond the age of 6 months needs to be vaccinated, and it’s a yearly vaccine,” Smith said.

Pets that have not been vaccinated for rabies might have to be euthanized after encountering a rabid animal.

“This is why we advise people to leave wildlife alone, have their animals vaccinated, and do not handle without precautions pets that may have been injured in fights with other animals,” Smith said.

Rabies is caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system of mammals. Symptoms include balance problems, unusual aggressiveness or “friendly” behavior in wild animals, circling and an inability to eat or drink. Although rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear, it is also preventable. Exposure can be remedied if medical attention is sought immediately after exposure, according to USDA APHIS.

“If there is concern, seek attention by a medical provider knowledgeable of rabies and who is equipped to begin treatment, if necessary,” said Smith.

For information on what to do in the case of a wildlife encounter, go to control.html.