MORGANTOWN — A colony of feral cats around Distributor Drive, off Green Bag Road, has been eliminated after one of the animals was confirmed positive for rabies by the West Virginia Office of Laboratory Services earlier this month.
Todd Powroznik, Monongalia County Health Department Environmental Health program manager, said MCHD was made aware of the situation after the cat was initially taken to Cheat Lake Animal Hospital for testing.
A week-long trapping effort began on July 8 and resulted in the capture of 16 cats, four raccoons and three possums.
According to Powroznik, the cats and possums were euthanized.
The raccoons were handed over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to be euthanized and tested as part of the agency’s regular raccoon surveillance efforts.
The MCHD has not received the results of those tests.
There have been three cases of rabies in Monongalia County so far in 2023. That’s up from one in 2022 and zero in both 2021 and 2020, but way down from 2019, when there were 22.
Of the 26 total cases since 2019, 15 were raccoons, nine were feral cats and two were bats.
Powroznik said the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the MCHD will team up to blanket Monongalia County with doses of fish meal-based oral rabies vaccine beginning Aug. 22. The USDA will drop the baits into rural areas from a plane or helicopter while MCHD personnel hand-bait areas within the boundaries of Morgantown, Westover, Star City and Granville.
“We’ve received a lot of calls about cat colonies once this hit the media,” he explained, later adding, “Last year, we got about 1,500 baits. Hopefully, we can get at least that many or a little bit more in the areas or pockets where we know these cat colonies are at now.”
The baits are not dangerous to pets.
Monongalia County Health Officer Dr. Lee Smith said the vaccine-laced baits are not available for citizens as the USDA orders and distributes a limited number each year to agencies nationwide.
Smith went on to explain the annual baiting efforts are conducted in August in order to include offspring born this year, particularly young raccoons, which should be eating independently by that point.
‘Ground zero’ for Lyme disease
In other MCHD news, Smith said Monongalia County is currently “ground zero for Lyme,” warning, “We are overrun with ticks carrying Lyme disease.”
Smith shared a heat map indicating the population density of Ixodes Scapularis — more commonly known as the black-legged tick or deer tick — is higher in Monongalia County than anywhere else in West Virginia.
That species of tick not only carries Lyme disease, but anaplasmosis and babesiosis, which, Smith said, present similar to a malaria parasite.
More troubling still, deer tick nymphs the size of a pin head can carry and transmit disease.
“This is a little tiny, itty-bitty nymph. You get one of those guys on you, you may not know that,” he said.
According to Smith, there have been 645 known cases of Lyme disease in West Virginia, most of which are clustered in north-central West Virginia.
As part of the presentation, Smith addressed the common belief that the severity of winter has any real impact on the blood-sucking bug.
“That’s just bologna. Ticks are here 365 days a year. They may curl up in a pile of leaves, but if they get a meal, they’re going to go for it,” he said.
Concerned citizens can bring ticks to the health department, which will submit them to the state for testing.