Rabies shots urged

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 10, 2005

Staff report

Local residents are being urged to play their role in preventing the spread of rabies in the Western Tidewater region.

Beginning Jan. 16-22, Rabies Awareness Week, the Western Tidewater Health District and local veterinarians are reminding residents to take action to curtail rabies. To show their dedication to the cause, all of the veterinarian offices in Suffolk, Franklin, the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton will provide vaccinations at a reduced rate during this period.

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&uot;People who love their companion animals know the importance of keeping their pets’ vaccinations up to date,&uot; said Dr. Mark Dembert, director of the Western Tidewater Health District.

&uot; They are not only protecting the animals but also themselves and their families.&uot;

In the Western Tidewater Health District the total number of rabies cases confirmed in 2004 was 12, an increase from the seven cases confirmed in 2003.

Of the 12 confirmed rabies cases in 2004, there were five raccoons, four skunks, two cats, and one fox.

&uot;In addition to keeping pets’ vaccinations up-to-date, people should also avoid contact with unknown animals,&uot; explained Dr. Suzanne Jenkins, acting state epidemiologist.

Unless people who feed or care for stray or feral animals take the steps to vaccinate those animals, they could be putting themselves and their own companion animals at risk for exposure to rabies.

&uot;If you care enough to feed them you should care enough to have them vaccinated as well,&uot; said Jenkins. &uot;The rabies virus is shed in the saliva of animals sick with the virus, so any animal bite should be taken seriously.

If an animal bites you, wash the wound immediately.

Likewise, if a wild animal bites your pet, contact your veterinarian or local health department immediately.&uot;

The Western Tidewater Health District strongly advises following these guidelines to prevent families and pets from being exposed to rabies:

-Vaccinate all cats, dogs and ferrets against rabies and keep them up to date

-Avoid contact with wild animals or stray cats and dogs.

-Do not feed wild animals or stray cats and dogs.

-Report stray animals to your local animal control agency.

-Eliminate outdoor food sources around your home.

Keep pets confined to your property or walk them on a leash.

State law requires all dogs and cats over the age of four months to be vaccinated against rabies.

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.

For more information on rabies, log onto the Virginia Department of Health’s Web site at www.vdh.virginia.gov/whc/e-xternal_whc/rabiesnew.asp or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web site at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/rabies/default.htm