The Virginia Department of Health is reminding residents that they play an essential role in preventing the spread of rabies to preview Rabies Awareness Week Jan. 16.
In Virginia the total number of animal rabies cases confirmed through Dec. 18, 2004 was 460.
The majority of rabies cases reported in Virginia occurred in raccoons, but it is rabid dogs and cats that usually expose humans to this deadly disease.
Doctor Suzanne Jenkins, acting state epidemiologist, said people who feed or care for stray or feral animals — unless they take the steps to vaccinate those animals — could be putting themselves and their companion animals at risk for exposure to rabies.
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. Call your physician, local health department or animal control agency immediately. Likewise, if a wild animal bites your pet, contact your veterinarian or local health department immediately.
The health department strongly advises people to follow this guidance to prevent families and pets from being exposed to rabies:
* Vaccinate all cats, dogs and ferrets against rabies and keep the vaccinations 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 the 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 several products are 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, visit http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/whc/external_whc/rabiesnew.asp or http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/rabies/default.htm.