The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is warning people to avoid contact with raccoons after a wild raccoon tested positive for rabies.
A raccoon in the northern section of Oakmont Road in Wheeling tested positive for rabies. This is the first laboratory confirmed animal rabies case in Ohio County and one of 38 cases in West Virginia for 2012. In 2011, West Virginia had 138 laboratory confirmed animal rabies cases. Ohio County had two confirmed cases of animal rabies in 2010.
The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department and other county health departments in West Virginia, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services regularly test animals for rabies throughout the year.
The health department is warning residents of Ohio County to be wary of animals acting strangely or aggressively. The health department also reminds residents to keep their pet's vaccinations up to date.
Rabies is a virus capable of infecting warm-blooded animals. Rabies mainly affects the brain. The disease is common in wildlife in North America - notably in bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes. There have not been any naturally occurring cases identified in birds, and it is extremely rare in rodents. The disease is usually spread by the bite or scratch of an infected animal. The virus is transmitted through the saliva. Rabies is a virus that, if left untreated, can be fatal.
Most exposures occur because people don't consider the risk of rabies. Exposures occur through contact with wildlife or with domestic animals exposed to rabid wildlife. Therefore, avoid raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats and stray or unfamiliar dogs and cats. In addition, wild species, including wild/domestic crossbreeds should not be kept as pets.
The health department urges residents not to ground feed wild animals, especially in residential areas. Residents should also control and secure residential garbage waste in and around homes and businesses. For more information, call the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department at 304-234-3682.