A rabid raccoon attacked an elderly cat last week in Lake of the Woods in the Locust Grove area of Orange County.
The incident occurred Sept. 1, according to a news release Thursday from the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District.
The owner of the cats subsequently killed the raccoon, according to Health District epidemiologist Daniel Ferrell. Due to the age and extent of injuries to the cat, its owners made the decision for a veterinarian to euthanize the pet, he said.
The dead raccoon was tested for rabies by the state lab and results came back positive on Sept. 4, according to the release. The local health department has since contacted individuals who may have had contact with the raccoon and assessed individual needs for rabies post-exposure shots, the release stated.
The health department asked the public to speak with friends, family, co-workers and neighbors, including elderly and disabled contacts, about rabies and the importance of leaving wildlife alone.
Individuals who have had recent contact with or been bitten by a wild animal should contact their primary care provider or local health department for further evaluation and medical recommendations, the release stated.
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system. It is found only in the saliva and brain tissue of an infected mammal and is most commonly spread when an infected animal bites a human or pet. Less often, the 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, the release stated. Some, but not all rabid animals can become aggressive and attack. Once symptoms of rabies begin, the illness progresses quickly and is nearly 100 percent fatal within a couple of days.
So far this year, through June 30, 174 animals statewide had tested positive for rabies, according to the health department. Of those, 93 were raccoons, and 30—the second highest number—were skunks.
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. Other ways to stop the spread of rabies, according to the health department, is not feeding stray or wild animals, keeping pets indoors, storing pet food and trash inside, and not handling, attempting to care for or dispose of sick, injured or dead animals.
Sept. 23-29 is Virginia Rabies Awareness Week. See vvma.org/Rabies-Awareness or www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/animal-contact-human-health for information.