Rabies Case Reported in Ohio County

A groundhog in Ohio County tested positive for rabies, according to the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department.

The groundhog was found in the Dement Road area of Ohio County, off W.Va. 88 past Peters Run Road. The groundhog was collected on Thursday, and tested positive for rabies the following day.

This is the second laboratory confirmed animal rabies case in Ohio County for 2019. The first was a raccoon, which was found near the Woodsdale neighborhood in March, according to Ohio County Health Administrator Howard Gamble.

The occurrence of rabies in groundhogs is not common in West Virginia, however cases do occur and caution should be maintained when dealing with any wild animal, according to the health department, which regularly tests wild animals for rabies year-round.

The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department advises residents of Ohio County to be wary of animals acting strangely or aggressively. The health department also recommends residents keep their pets’ 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.

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.

“With an animal, when signs begin to develop, such as a groundhog or raccoon, they may walk in circles, be aggressive or shying from light,” Gamble said. “By the time we see that, it’s not too far after that that the animal will cease to exist. With wild animals, it’s just (better) to keep your distance from them.”

However, Gamble said other factors could cause an animal to be outdoors in daytime, a behavior commonly associated with rabid animals, such as their den being disturbed, needing food or other diseases.

If left untreated, rabies can be fatal, and may take significant amounts of time after exposure to become symptomatic.

“When an individual has a dog bite, cat bite, any kind of animal bite, it’s automatically reported to the health department if they’re seen at a provider. … There’s no way for you to actively see a symptom and then get the vaccine and be protected,” Gamble said.

Depending on the location of a bite, infection can take months, or much less time if closer to the neck and head.

“Signs of neurological issues, sensitivity to light, rapid breathing may take a while, but it depends on the individual. There is no — as we always explain — safe point when exposed,” Gamble said. “Exposure can be anything from ‘I think I was bitten,’ ‘There was a bat in the room when I woke up,’ to ‘I was scratched or bitten by a wild or domestic animal.'”

If a person is bitten, post-exposure vaccines can be administered with the same ease as a flu shot, Gamble said. Those expecting exposure, such as veterinarians or spelunkers, can receive pre-exposure vaccines.

The health department urges residents not to ground feed any animals, both domestic and wild animals, especially in residential areas. Residents should also control and secure residential garbage waste in and around homes and businesses.

For more information, contact the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department at 304-234-3682.


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