Rabies and vector control
Preventing the spread of disease is one of the foundations of a healthy community. Environmental Health helps to protect the health of the citizens of Monongalia County by conducting rabies surveillance. Rabies surveillance involves monitoring and/or testing animals that have bitten or scratched a person or another animal to see if rabies is the cause of the incident.
Environmental Health also oversees vector control. This involves monitoring and/or eliminating conditions, such as standing water or trash piles, that allow animal vectors, like rodents, and insects, like mosquitoes and ticks, to transmit disease to humans or other animals.
MCHD and rabies surveillance
Whenever there is an animal encounter, we want to make sure that the person or animal that was bitten was not exposed to the rabies virus. Because rabies is almost always fatal, it is important to eliminate it as a cause of the animal encounter. The methods used depend on whether it was a domestic animal or wild animal that did the biting.
When the health department becomes aware that a domestic animal (dog, cat, ferret) has bitten a person, a sanitarian will attempt to contact the owner of the biting animal. The sanitarian will attempt to verify if the biting animal has a current rabies vaccine. The sanitarian will also give the animal owner a notice that the animal needs to be quarantined. Quarantine involves isolating the animal at the animal owner's home or another animal care facility depending on the situation, for 10 days to make sure that there are no sudden changes in the health or behavior of the animal that could indicate rabies. Quarantine helps prevent exposure of other people or animals in the event that the biting animal shows signs of rabies. If the animal is still healthy and there have been no changes in the normal behavior of the animal at the end of the quarantine period, then rabies can be ruled out as the cause of the incident.
When a person is bitten by a wild animal, the only way to rule out rabies is to have the animal tested for rabies.
If a domestic animal is bitten by a wild animal, or bites and kills a wild animal, the domestic animal will have to be quarantined. The amount of time that the domestic animal will have to be quarantined will depend on whether the wild animal is available for testing and whether the domestic animal has a current rabies vaccine.
Oral rabies vaccine baiting program
Monongalia County Health Department’s Environmental Health program participates in the Oral Rabies Vaccine (ORV) program conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS).
- Annually in late August, ORV baits are dropped from aircraft over a mapped-out area where rabies has been determined to be of concern.
- In 2019, Monongalia County Health Department worked with officials from USDA APHIS’ Elkins office and convinced the USDA to move the ORV bait line, which had moved west of Monongalia County, back east in order to provide coverage for the county.
- Additionally, MCHD Environmental Health purchased ORV baits and distributed them by hand in grassy and wooded areas around Morgantown, including along the rail-trail.
- ORV baiting has continued annually since then. The time of year is specifically chosen because wild animals, typically born in the spring, are old enough by late summer to ingest the ORV baits on their own in order to be inoculated.
- Oral rabies vaccine and the baits are not considered to be dangerous. The bait coating is made of dog food or fishmeal and poses no danger to human or animal health. People who might happen upon the baits should leave them alone, unless they are in an area where children or pets play.
- To move an ORV bait, wear gloves or use a paper towel or plastic bag, according to information released by USDA APHIS. Move baits to areas where wildlife might find them. If a pet eats a bait, it is not harmful, but eating several could cause an upset stomach. Wash your hands after touching a bait.
What should you do if you or your pet is involved in an animal encounter?
- If you are bitten by an owned or stray domestic animal if it is a severe bite or other types of emergency.
- If you are bitten by a wild animal. The 911 operator will give you instructions and refer your call to the appropriate agency (DNR, USDA, police, wildlife removal company) which will attempt to capture the animal for testing if it is available.
- If you see an animal that is displaying signs of rabies.
Call the MECCA non-emergency number, 304-599-6382, if:
- If you are bitten by a stray domestic animal and if it's not a severe bite.
- If you see a stray animal on your property that is acting sick or has died.
- If you find a bat in your house, especially if you find it in a bedroom in the morning or after you have been sleeping, you need to assume that you may be exposed, even if you do not see any bite marks on yourself.
- If your pet is bitten by a stray domestic animal, and the bite is not severe. If it is severe, take your pet to the veterinarian.
- If your pet is bitten, or bites and kills, a wild animal and the bite is not severe. If it is severe, take your pet to the veterinarian. MECCA will give you instructions and refer your call to the appropriate agency (DNR, USDA, police, wildlife removal company) that will attempt to capture the animal for testing if it is available.
Monongalia County Health Department (304-598-5131):
- Must be notified within 24 hours by any medical or veterinary personnel or owner who doesn’t seek either individual or animal medical care in the case of all animal encounters, including bites, scratches, saliva/CNS tissue contact with wounds or mucous membranes and bat contact with no definite bite or scratch, using the form below.
- Should be notified by an individual who does not choose to seek either personal medical care or veterinary care for your pet after an animal encounter, using this form.
- Will be contacted by your doctor if you experience an animal encounter and seek medical attention.
- Will be contacted by your veterinarian if your pet has an encounter with an owned or stray domestic animal if you seek vet care for your pet.
- Will need animal owner information, if it’s available if you or a pet is bitten by an owned domestic animal.
- Will not fine owners or take away pets if the pet bites another animal, so please provide your contact information to the owner of the bitten pet.
Information for health care facilities and veterinarians
All animal encounters (including bites, scratches, saliva/CNS tissue contact with wounds or mucous membranes, and bat contact with no definite bite or scratch) must be reported to the health department within 24 hours using the form below:
If an animal under quarantine is euthanized for any reason before the quarantine period is over, you must contact the health department so that the animal can be submitted to the West Virginia Office of Laboratory Services for rabies testing.
Vaccine records for animals involved in an animal encounter can be submitted to the health department without having to obtain consent from the animal owner.
- DC-4 WV DHHR Rabies Surveillance, Management, and Control Manual
- WV DHHR Animal Bite/Exposure Protocol
- 64 CSR 7 EXCERPT – West Virginia Reportable Diseases Law - Chapter 5 Animal Bites
- One of the easiest and best ways to prevent the spread of rabies is by having your pet vaccinated and to remain up-to-date on the rabies vaccine. West Virginia Code 19-20A requires all owned dogs and cats to be vaccinated against rabies on a set schedule.
- Do not approach or handle any stray animals or wild animals, no matter how cute they are or how friendly they seem.
- Know the signs of rabies. These fall into two categories: behavior changes and neurological changes.
When animals enter the end stages of the disease, they will often show extreme changes in behavior. Animals, particularly domestic animals, that are normally calm and friendly may become agitated, irritable, and very aggressive. In the same way, animals that are normally aggressive, fearful or timid may suddenly become calm and friendly, which is why you should never try to pet a “friendly” raccoon, fox, or another wild animal.
Because the rabies virus attacks the brain, as the disease progresses, the animal will begin to show signs such as hypersensitivity to light, sound, or touch. Rabies can also cause paralysis of the throat and jaw muscles, which leads to the “foaming at the mouth” symptom that many people associate with rabies. The animal will start to have trouble walking or moving and may suffer from confusion or seizures.
If you see an animal that is displaying signs of rabies, call 911 right away. Do not attempt to approach or handle the animal. Also, please try not to shoot and kill the animal if possible. The animal needs to be captured and humanely euthanized so that it can be tested for rabies. If you have to take action to protect yourself or your family from a rabid animal, please try not to aim for the head because the animal's brain needs to be intact in order to test the animal for rabies.
The centers for Disease Control and Prevention website provides a lot of information on rabies.