Vaccinations can save your pets

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 28, 2003

&uot;Rabies Awareness Week&uot; begins Sunday, and the Western Tidewater Health District (WTHD), the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, and local Animal Control officers are urging people to &uot;Help Make Rabies a thing of the Past.&uot;

These agencies would like to see all dogs and cats, and a few other animals, vaccinated for a number of reasons including prevention of a rabies outbreak in the city.

Kevin Seaford, rabies coordinator for the Suffolk Health Department, said many local veterinarians in the district would offer the vaccinations for $7, which is considerably less than the normal charge.

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Seaford also noted that in 2002 there were 16 confirmed cases of rabies in the WTHD, which includes Franklin, Isle of Wight, Smithfield, Southampton, and Suffolk. This is an increase from the seven cases confirmed in 2001, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Laboratory-confirmed animal rabies cases in Western Tidewater for 2002 included four raccoons were infected with rabies in Suffolk. In Isle of Wight, a dog, a raccoon and a skunk were confirmed rabid. Southampton officials confirmed rabies in a goat, a raccoon and a skunk.

Living in an urban area doesn’t indicate a reduced risk of rabies. For example, in 2002 there were 11 positive raccoons in Norfolk, and there were 19 animal rabies cases in Virginia Beach.

Suzanne Jenkins, assistant state epidemiologist, said vaccinating pets against rabies is the single most important thing people can do to protect themselves, their families and their pets against this deadly virus.

&uot;Pet owners are reminded to have their dogs and cats vaccinated to protect them against rabies,&uot; said Jenkins. &uot;Our pets often provide the connection between the wildlife population… The rabies virus is shed in the saliva of animals sick with the virus, so any animal bite should be taken seriously.&uot;

She also cautioned that if an animal bites you, wash the wound immediately, and call your physician, local health department or animal control agency immediately. Just as importantly, if a wild animal bites your pet, contact your veterinarian or local health department immediately.

&uot;Once a human is exposed to rabies, the individual can be protected from the disease by receiving a series of preventive shots,&uot; said Seaford. &uot;Because there is no cure for the disease, treatment must be initiated before the onset of symptoms.&uot;

In 2001, 20 individuals in Western Tidewater received post-exposure treatment as a result of possible exposure to rabid animals. Although post-exposure treatment for rabies is available, the best protection is having pets vaccinated.

Dr. Lawrence W. Gernon, WTHD director, offered several suggestions for preventing families and pets from becoming exposed to rabies.

Gernon said all pet dogs, cats and ferrets should be vaccinated, and that at no time should anyone approach a wild or stray animal, especially raccoons, bats, foxes, skunks, cats, and dogs. Also, confine pets to the yard or walk them on a lease, he said.

&uot;State law requires all dogs and cats over the age of four months to be vaccinated against rabies,&uot; said the director. &uot;Vaccines can be given as early as three months and one product is approved for kittens at eight weeks. Dog licenses are required throughout the state and some communities require licenses for cats.&uot;

Seaford also noted that in some instances, people should vaccinated horses and goats as well as dogs and cats, especially if they are valued animals.

&uot;It is important to note that unvaccinated pets must be either euthanized or quarantined for 180 days, or six months, if exposed to a rabid animal,&uot; said Seaford. &uot;It would be like a six-month jail sentence for pets, outdoors, in a double-fenced pen, without any human contact or contact with other animals. Rabies is a serious disease and it is always fatal.&uot;

Veterinarians in Suffolk participating in the reduced price vaccinations include Academy Animal Care at 3372 Pruden Blvd., phone 934-2273; Bennetts Creek Vet. Care at 3215 Bridge Rd., Suite 4, phone 483-5590; Harbour Veterinary Office at 542 E. Constance Rd., phone 925-2011; Nansemond Vet. Hospital at 110 Kensington Blvd., phone 539-6371; and Suffolk Animal Hospital at 1232 Holland Rd., 539-1385.

Anyone with questions about rabies should consult a veterinarian or the health department. Also, report all animal bites to the Suffolk Animal Control Bureau at (757) 923-2160 or the Suffolk Health Department at (757) 686-4978.

In Franklin, call the Animal Control Bureau at (757) 562-8605, and in Southampton, call Animal Control at (757) 653-2100, or the Southampton Health Department at (757) 653-3047. Isle of Wight residents should call the Animal Control Bureau at (757) 635-6318 or the Isle of Wight Health Department at (757) 357-7242.

For more information on rabies, log onto the Virginia Department of Health’s Web site at or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site at