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Rabies risk: WVU expert offers advice for limiting exposure to this viral disease

Rabies Risk graphic with photo of raccoon

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Every year, approximately 2,500 animal bites and other potential rabies encounters are reported across the state. In 2018, at least three animals have tested positive for rabies in West Virginia, as well as a number of animals in the bordering counties of neighboring states. Though this viral disease should not be taken lightly, according to West Virginia University Extension Service wildlife specialist Sheldon Owen, you can greatly reduce your risk of coming in contact with a rabid animal by taking a few simple precautions. 

Sheldon Owen

Wildlife Specialist
WVU Extension Service 

“Rabies is a preventable viral disease transmitted through blood or saliva. In West Virginia, raccoons are responsible for about 90 percent of rabies cases. Other animals that might carry rabies include bats, foxes and skunks. The best way to reduce your risk of exposure is to first and foremost vaccinate your pets. Not only is it the law, but it’s the most common reason people are exposed to rabies. Make sure food sources, such as dog food or trash, are inaccessible to raccoons and other wildlife to further reduce your risk. Also, make sure your yard and home are not inviting areas to live. For example, fix any holes that might allow animals access under your porches or decks, and clean up clutter around your yard. Finally, if you need to dispose of a dead animal, make sure you wear gloves to avoid possible exposure or put some type of barrier, such as a bag or a couple of bags, in between you and that animal. “

“Sometimes people will see a nocturnal animal, such as a racoon, out during the day and assume that that animal is infected with rabies. That’s not always the case. They can be sick; however, sometimes they just need extra food or have to be active during the day to meet their energy demands. Some signs that an animal is rabid are aggression, lack of fear of humans and wandering without purpose, looking dazed and confused. If you suspect an animal may be infected, contact your local animal control office, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources or USDA Wildlife Services. If you believe your pet has been exposed, contact your local veterinarian. If you suspect you have been exposed to rabies, seek immediate medical attention and contact your doctor. Vaccination after exposure is highly successful in preventing the disease, if administered properly.” 

Sheldon Owen video file (1:39)

Contact information:; 304.293.2990

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.



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