Rabid dog spreads ripples through Fluvanna

By Heather Michon

Some deputies and civilians sought treatment after being exposed to a rabid dog that was captured and euthanized in Scottsville shortly before Christmas.

“Several deputies and civilians sought treatment for possible rabies exposure,” according to Capt. David Wells of the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office.

It later emerged on social media that, before it could be euthanized, the dog attacked a young girl and severed one of her fingers. In the email to the Fluvanna Review, Captain Wells explained that since the case involved a juvenile,  he could not disclose any details of the incident.

Everyone who came in close contact with the dog in its final days, including the owners, the injured girl, the animal control staff and others, would potentially be at risk, according to authorities.

The black pitbull was reported as running loose in the Branch Road area on Dec. 19 and was showing aggression towards other animals and humans, according to the sheriff’s office.

“Due to the dog’s aggressive action, it was euthanized and samples were sent for testing,” said Wells in a press release.  Test results confirmed on Dec. 23 that the dog was suffering from rabies.

“The [Thomas Jefferson Health District] works all the time to monitor possible rabies exposure,” said District Epidemiologist Marcia Hornberger, often conducting interviews with potentially exposed people to assess their risk and recommend treatment.

The rabies virus lives in the saliva of mammals, often raccoons, foxes, bats, and other wildlife. It remains active as long as the animal is alive.

Rabies is commonly transmitted through a bite, so “a bite is a clear exposure,” said Hornberger—but any contact with infected saliva could potentially pass on the virus through broken skin or membranes. The level of risk “can be a little gray,” she added, depending on the circumstances. When in doubt, the health officials generally recommend people receive the post-exposure protocol.

Untreated, rabies will travel through the nervous system and eventually cause the brain to swell. It is almost invariably fatal. But early treatment, Hornberger said “has never been known to fail.”

Rabies injections “are no longer given through the stomach,” assures Hornberger. That form of treatment ended in the 1980s.

Today, many animal workers receive a pre-exposure series of three doses of vaccine. For those who start out unvaccinated, post-exposure treatment is a little more rigorous, involving multiple intramuscular shots over a two-week period.

Post-exposure treatments begin with a shot of human rabies immune globulin (HRIG), which is made from the plasma of people already vaccinated for rabies. Giving patients these already-formed immunities, Hornberger explained, prevents the spread of the virus almost immediately.

The best way to stop rabies is to vaccinate the animals closest to us.

“Vaccinate your dogs, vaccinate your cats, vaccinate your ferrets,” Hornberger stressed. That way, if they do come in contact with rabid wildlife, they won’t get sick and they won’t pass it on to humans. “By vaccinating our pets, we are protecting ourselves.”

Local shelters have banded together to host a free emergency rabies clinic at Pleasant Grove Park on Saturday, Jan. 4 from 9 a.m. to noon. Dogs must be leashed and cats in carriers and vaccinations will be given in your car.

Human cases of rabies are extremely rare in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that only 1 to 3 Americans contract the virus each year.

The last recorded human death from rabies occurred in the Charlottesville area in the spring of 2017. In that instance, the victim was nipped by a dog during a trip to India and fell ill six weeks later, after her return to Virginia.

The woman’s death highlights the ripple effect a single bite can have on the community. According to the CDC, 250 people who had come in contact with the woman were screened for possible exposure to the virus and 72 ended up being referred for post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP.



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