Rabies Awareness

What is rabies?
Rabies is an always-fatal viral disease that affects the nervous system of mammals. The rabies virus generally is transmitted in the saliva of an infected animal. People and animals are usually exposed to rabies through the bite of a rabid animal. Vaccination protects animals and people from rabies.

How common is rabies in Fairfax County?
In recent years, Fairfax County has had the highest number of cases of animal rabies of any county in Virginia. The large number of cases compared with other counties is an indication of Fairfax County's large human population and the greater opportunity for interaction with wildlife. In 2000, 72 cases of rabid animals (JPG file, 49K) were reported in Fairfax County. In 2001, 46 cases of rabid animals ( JPG file, 77K) were reported in Fairfax County , 3 of these being in the pilot program area.

Which animals get rabies?
Although any mammal can get rabies, most rabies cases occur in wild animals. Raccoons, which are the reservoir for terrestrial rabies on the East Coast, account for the largest number of cases - about 57% of the cases in Fairfax County for 2001. To see the trend in rabies cases in Fairfax County from 1984 through 2001 (GIF file, 19K) . Of the 549 rabies cases statewide in 1999, 60% were raccoon, 20% were skunk, 9% were fox, and 4% were domestic cats. Bats were 4% of cases. The remaining 3% of were groundhog, cow, dog, bobcat and horse.

How do I know if an animal has rabies?
Wild animals may move slowly or may act as if they are tame. A pet that is usually friendly may snap at you or try to bite. Some signs of rabies are changes in behavior, general sickness, problems swallowing, increased drooling and/or aggression.

What can you do to protect yourself and your pets against rabies?
Rabies in cats, dogs and ferrets can be prevented by having them vaccinated by a veterinarian. An unvaccinated pet can pose a serious health risk to you and others. Virginia law requires dogs and cats to be vaccinated at four months of age and to receive regular boosters during their lifetime. For more information about how to get your pet vaccinated, call the Fairfax County Animal Shelter at 703-830-1100. Some other things you can do to prevent being exposed to rabies are:

  • Enjoy wild animals at a safe distance and never touch unfamiliar or wild animals.

  • If you see an animal that is acting strangely call your jurisdiction's animal control agency. The number for Fairfax County's Department of Animal Control is 703-830-1100 - Option 3.

  • If an animal bites you, wash the wound with soap and water for at least five minutes and contact your doctor immediately. Animal bites should be reported to the Fairfax County Animal Services Division Dispatch at 703-830-1100 - Option 3 and the Health Department at 703-246-2433 during normal business hours or 571-274-2296 after hours, weekends, and holidays.

  • If your pet is bitten or scratched by a wild animal, contact your veterinarian immediately. Your pet should be given a rabies booster vaccination.

  • Make sure that your trashcans and pet food are secured to avoid attracting wild or stray animals.


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