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Press Release

Rabies found in feral cat colony in Monongalia County; MCHD investigating

Jul. 7, 2023

Contact: MaryWade Burnside
Public Information Officer
Monongalia County Health Department
Morgantown, WV 26505
(304) 598-5152 |

For Immediate Release

Rabies found in feral cat colony in Monongalia County; MCHD investigating

MORGANTOWN, WV (July 7, 2023)
— An incidence of rabies was detected in a feral cat colony around Distributor Drive off Green Bag Road this week. Monongalia County Health Department has been working with officials and animal control to trap what is believed to be about 20 felines and to also alert area businesses and individuals to the situation.

Family members and veterinary staff members were exposed to a rabid cat on or around June 30 and have been advised to seek rabies postexposure prophylaxis treatment. The animal was sick and exhibiting signs of neurological distress. It was euthanized and sent to the West Virginia Office of Laboratory Services in South Charleston for testing. Rabies was confirmed on Thursday, July 6.

“We are advising area businesses and residences in the vicinity to be on the lookout for stray cats and to avoid them,” said Dr. Lee B. Smith, Monongalia County Health Department’s county health officer.

Other animals found in West Virginia that might have rabies include raccoons, bats, foxes, skunks and coyotes, noted Todd Powroznik, program manager for MCHD Environmental Services.

“Stay away from animals you don’t know, exercise caution and maintain a safe distance,” Powroznik said. “Dog owners also should observe the leash law outdoors in order to keep your pets safe.”

This is the second known case of rabies in Monongalia County so far in 2023. The other case occurred in a raccoon.

Incidence of rabies has dropped dramatically since 2019, when rising cases that ended up exceeding 20 prompted Monongalia County Health Department officials to turn to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for assistance.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) operates the National Rabies Management Program. In addition to conducting fieldwork and testing dead raccoons found in surveilled areas for rabies, USDA APHIS also distributes oral vaccine rabies (ORV) baits by airplane and helicopter in late August, following a gridded map of problem areas.

“The line where they dropped those ORV baits had been moved west and was nearly outside of Monongalia County,” Dr. Smith said. “We were able to work with them and, in 2019, they moved the line east. We saw a substantial drop in cases after that.”

There were zero cases found in 2020 and 2021, and two in 2022, according to information provided by Powroznik and the USDA APHIS office in Elkins.

MCHD Environmental Health also purchases additional ORV baits annually from the USDA so sanitarians can disseminate them around the rail-trail and other wooded and grassy areas of Morgantown.

“The ORV bait distribution takes place in late August because the USDA waits for wild animals that are typically born in spring to be able to eat on their own so they can consume the vaccine and be properly inoculated,” Dr. Smith said.

Rabies is a viral disease found in mammals that attacks the nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and eventually death if untreated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Any individual who has an encounter with a wild animal that includes a scratch or a bite is strongly encouraged to go to an emergency department of a hospital to seek rabies postexposure prophylaxis treatment,” Dr. Smith said. “About 10 days after exposure, once symptoms set in, rabies is always fatal.”

The only way to tell if an animal has rabies is to euthanize it and send it away for testing. If someone in Monongalia County has an encounter with a wild animal, they should call MCHD Environmental Health at 304-598-5131 for instructions on next steps.

“Under reportable diseases, the state Department of Health and Human Resources requires all health care workers to report animal bites to the local health department,” Dr. Smith said.

Other preventive measures include making sure dogs, cats and ferrets are up to date on their rabies vaccines. “In West Virginia, it is the law to make sure your pets that are capable of contracting rabies get all of their rabies shots,” Dr. Smith said.

Vaccinated pets that have encounters with a rabid or potentially rabid animal can be re-vaccinated and observed for a period of time to make sure they are safe.

“If a pet isn’t vaccinated and gets into a tussle with a rabid raccoon or another animal, the options are few and heartbreaking,” Dr. Smith added. “Rabies is a cruel disease.”

Monongalia County Health Department has connected with local veterinarians to begin making plans for a rabies vaccine clinic for pets. More details will be released as they become available, and also will be posted on MCHD’s social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) at WVMCHD.

Additional prevention measures include keeping garbage cans closed tightly; examining your home to close any openings to ensure that wild animals, including bats, cannot get in; refraining from placing food outside and, of course avoiding any wild or stray animals and keeping your pets away from them.

Other online resources include Monongalia County Health Department's rabies page; USDA APHIS and the CDC.

“We know rabies cases are concerning to the community, but we feel confident that between the ORV baits and individuals taking precautions, we can take great strides to reduce the incidence of rabies and mitigate this risk,” Powroznik said.





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