Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 9, 2013

Health official: Mercer County resident exposed to rabies by raccoon

GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — County health officials are warning local pet owners that tests have confirmed the first rabid raccoon found in Mercer County this year.

One person was exposed to rabies by the raccoon, Doris Irwin, RN, of the Mercer County Health Department said Friday. The incident occurred in the Princeton Avenue area of Bluefield.

“It happened about a week ago,” Irwin said. “We didn’t get the specimen to test until two days ago. The person who was bitten realized several days ago that this was a problem. He sought treatment and was able to recover the body of the animal for us. It’s cool this time of year, so it was still good.”

Due to confidentiality regulations, Irwin could not name the individual or provide any other information. However, the exposure happened when this person tried to intervene while a dog and the raccoon fought, she said. Raccoons are often attracted to pet food that is left outdoors.

“The important fact, and it’s really an important one, is to stay away from wild animals that are coming up to you, and that you not feed your pet outside,” Irwin said. “Animals that are tied up outside and being fed outside put you at risk for having this type of experience.”

The fact this incident happened during the winter helped confirm that the raccoon was rabid. The animal had not been buried, and the cold weather preserved its brain like a natural refrigerator, Irwin said. Higher temperatures would have ruined the specimen, making it unsuitable for testing.

“It is very important that you do not throw the body away and not bury it. We were lucky. This time of year, it’s cool,” Irwin said.

If a raccoon is not available after it has been exposed to a human or pet, the health department recommends post-exposure treatment for people, she said. If a pet has not had rabies shots, the department recommends euthanasia or quarantining the pet for six months.

The case is still under investigation, and what will happen to the dog that was exposed has not been determined yet, Irwin said.

“We really want to emphasize that if anyone has concerns about a pet being exposed  or has seen raccoons, we want them to call us,” Irwin said. “Basically, we are looking to make sure we haven’t missed any other cases.”

The Mercer County Health Department can be contacted at 304-324-8367.

Wild animals that have been exposed to rabies may become shy and hide, or become unusually approachable. They may also become irritable, aggressive and suddenly attack. Other signs include staggering, weakness and paralysis, inability to eat or drink, drooling, convulsions and frothing at the mouth.

The Mercer County Spay Association is sponsoring a low-cost rabies vaccination clinic at Happy Tails Veterinary Clinic on Saturday, March 23, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost is $7. Happy Tails is located at 315 Oakvale Road near Princeton. The clinic’s number is 304-913-4962.