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Warm weather brings uptick in rabies cases

Monday - 4/14/2014, 3:17pm  ET

WASHINGTON -- The warmer weather has brought an increase in rabies cases, including rabid cats. Health officials says this is a good time to make sure your dog or cat's rabies vaccination is up-to-date.

The problem, health officials say, is people don't tend to think of cats as having rabies and so cats come in contact with lots of people. Karen Gruszynski, veterinary epidemiologist with the Virginia Health Department says, "Normally 30 to 40 cats in Virginia test positive for rabies every year."

The Prince William health department warned Woodbridge- and Nokesville-area residents about an increase in rabies cases among wildlife. They are urging residents to stay away from bats, stray cats and dogs and other wild animals.

Andrea Young, an epidemiologist with the Prince William District of the Virginia Health Department, says two cats tested positive for rabies in the Woodbridge area in the last five months. Both cats were believed stray or feral.

Added, a rabid raccoon attacked a dog in Nokesville on March 24, Young says.

"In the Nokesville area, we did see an increase in raccoons testing positive for rabies over the past several months. And all those raccoons had encounters with domestic animals and that's why they were tested," Young says.

"Don't leave your pets unattended. If you come up on a stray or injured animal, call animal control."

The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva, either from a bite or wound, entering through the mouth or eyes. Young says rabies is almost always fatal, which is a good reason to make sure pets are vaccinated.

Despite the recent increase, there are 15 fewer cases in Virginia this year when compared to the same time last year, says Karen Gruszynski, with the Virginia Health Department. There were 93 cases between Jan. 1 and March 15 in 2013. So far this year, there have been 78 cases.

In Maryland, this is year is on par with last year, says Kimberly Mitchell, chief of the Rabies and Vector-borne Diseases with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. As of April 14, there have been 78 confirmed rabies cases.

In Prince William County, five animals tested positive for rabies so far in 2014 -- four raccoons and one cat.

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