Recent, well-publicized attacks by rabid beavers have a number of Fairfax County residents wondering if there has been an increase in rabid animals this year.
As of Oct. 1, there have been 38 positive rabies cases in the county, according to Fairfax County Police Public Information Officer Lucy Caldwell. Most of them are raccoons, but some were bats, beavers, skunks, foxes and one was a cat.
“Each year, the Fairfax County Health Department Laboratory tests between 400 and 500 animals submitted from within Fairfax County,” said Dr. Peter Troell, medical epidemiologist for the Fairfax County Health Department, in a recent email. “Most years, approximately 10 percent of these animals test positive for rabies. In 2011, 42 animals tested positive and, in 2012, 40 animals have tested positive to date.”
However, Troell said it’s important to also note that the number of animals that test positive in the Health Department Laboratory does not really reflect the level of disease among animals in the community. Mostly, animals are submitted for rabies testing after encountering or interacting with people or domestic animals.
Tina Dale, the communications specialist for the Fairfax County Health Department, said the department has tested more animals for the disease this year than last year. However, it doesn’t mean there are more rabid animals in the area than usual.
Dale said this means more rabid animals have been captured and reported by residents or by Fairfax County Police Department’s Animal Control Services.
“Changes in the number of rabid animals from year-to-year may reflect only an increase or decrease in the number of animals submitted for testing, not the level of rabies among wildlife,” said Troell.
Troell said Fairfax County usually identifies a high number of rabid animals compared to other areas in Virginia.
“Fairfax County is relatively densely populated, yet has adequate habitat to support robust wildlife populations,” Troell explained. “This may result in a larger number of human-wildlife interactions.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals that’s usually transmitted through a bite from a rabid animal. The rabies virus causes infection in the central nervous system and can ultimately cause disease in the brain and death.
To help control rabies, the Virginia Health Department provides the following tips:
- Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and selected livestock. Keep the vaccinations up-to-date.
- If your pet is attacked or bitten by a wild animal, report it to the local health or animal control authorities. Be sure your vaccinated dog, cat, or ferret receives a booster vaccination.
- Limit the possibility of exposure by keeping your animals on your property. Don’t let pets roam free.
- Do not leave garbage or pet food outside. It may attract wild or stray animals.
- Do not keep wild animals as pets. Enjoy all wild animals from a distance, even if they seem friendly. A rabid animal sometimes acts tame. If you see an animal acting strangely, report it to your local animal control department and do not go near it yourself.
If bitten by an animal in Fairfax County, take these steps to receive assistance and medical attention:
- Thoroughly clean the wound with soap and lots of water to lessen the chance of infection.
- Immediately seek medical attention.
- Report the incident by calling the Fairfax County Police Department’s Animal Control Services at (703) 691-2131.
- Call the rabies coordinator at the Fairfax County Health Department to discuss the incident, (703) 246-2433.