Good sense regarding rabies

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2015

It’s that time of year again when folks in Suffolk start remembering that, despite their hometown’s claim to being the largest city in Virginia, living in Suffolk can require a bit of rural sensibility.

From bears rattling the trashcans to ticks crawling up pants legs to the risk of rabies in unfamiliar animals, both wild and domesticated, spring in Suffolk brings a variety of challenges that residents of most cities never experience.

When people get used to thinking of themselves living in a place that has been tamed by man, they can become unaware of the potential threats they face from nature reasserting itself.

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With the coming of spring, however, it’s important to remember that there are still some rural dangers, even in the urbanized parts of Suffolk, and one of the biggest of those dangers is rabies. The city’s first confirmed rabies case of the year came just this week with the confirmation that a dead raccoon retrieved from a marsh by an unvaccinated dog did, indeed, carry the disease.

Rabies exposure is deadly for unvaccinated pets, and it is also almost always fatal in humans if it’s not caught and treated in time. And by the time a victim develops symptoms, there is no cure for it.

Since the dog was unvaccinated, health officials said, it will either be euthanized or be subjected to a strict, 180-day isolation in a specially designed pen. The risks are too great to risk allowing the dog to come into contact with people.

Just as there are steps folks can take to reduce the chance they’ll tangle with bears in Suffolk (start by making sure to tightly close your trashcans and by not keeping food scraps in them when it can be avoided), residents can reduce the chance they’ll ever be exposed to a rabid animal — or, even worse, have to go through a round of rabies shots after being bitten or scratched.

Here’s what the health department suggests:

  • Stay away from wild or stray animals, especially raccoons, bats, foxes, skunks, cats and dogs.
  • Make sure all your dogs, cats and ferrets are current on their vaccinations. State law requires all dogs and cats more than four months old to be vaccinated.
  • Keep your pets on your property and keep an eye on them.
  • And seal your garbage containers with lids.

For more information about rabies in Suffolk, call the Suffolk Health Department at 514-4751. To report a suspicious animal, call Suffolk Animal Control at 514-7855.