Monongalia County Health Department offers update on rabies vaccination efforts

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Monongalia County Health Department (MCHD) continues to make efforts to prevent the spread of rabies in the county’s wild and feral animal population.

County Health Officer Lee Smith has offered an update on some of the efforts taken to prevent the spread of rabies, such as the one that occurred with a colony of feral cats found along Collins Ferry Road in July. Since the initial report, Smith reported that the cases of rabies have been contained, and animals who had the potential to be exposed were treated with oral rabies vaccine baits with the help of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“We have, annually, a partnership worked out with the USDA that they do oral rabies vaccine baiting,” said Smith on how the rabies outbreak in Monongalia County was handled.

The vaccine rabies drops in 2023 occurred about the same time as the rabies outbreak was reported in July. Once the vaccine baits were distributed, Smith confirmed that infected animals were contained, and humans that interacted with the animals were treated and vaccinated before they were infected with the deadly disease. The Monongalia County Health Department also determined that outdoor water bowls also played a role in the small spread of the infection due to saliva.

“For feral animals, an infected racoon can use the same water bowl, and they can put active virus in the water bowl,” said Smith on how rabies can spread in an animal population. “And then another animal can come along and drink it and it’s that easy to become infected.”

To prevent rabies from potentially spreading to an animal or a human, Smith advises Monongalia County residents to take several, but simple, precautions. The most common remedy is to make sure all of your animals are vaccinated and to stay away from animals that appear to be acting in an abnormal manner. This includes the obvious signs of rabies (foaming at the mouth, aggressiveness) and signs that may not be normally seen.

“An animal that is stumbling, or turning in circles, or having what one might clearly think are neurological issues would be suspect in my mind of having rabies,” said Smith on what residents should watch out for.

If you encounter a rabid animal in Monongalia County, residents are advised to contact either the Monongalia County Animal Control office, the County Health Department, or local law enforcement if you live in a municipality. Vaccine baits provided by the USDA are scheduled to take place in 2024 as part of their annual agreement with the MCHD and are expected to significantly help prevent any future spreads of the disease. Despite that, residents are urged to remain cautious around wild and feral animals that are acting like they have symptoms.

“The first call would be to the animal control officer, if it happens to be in a city, you may end up calling the local law enforcement, where they may be required to dispatch the animal,” said Smith.