Rabies is widespread throughout much of West Virginia, says state Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass. He is urging citizens in the Mountain State to make sure their pets are vaccinated against the disease and, with approved rabies vaccines available for cattle, sheep and horses, is urging owners of valuable livestock to consider vaccinating them as well.
"Rabies is a threat to any warm-blooded animal and the public should be observant of any abnormalities in their farm animals, pets or wildlife," Douglass says. "Wild animals that behave in an unusual or aggressive manner should be avoided and reported to the local health department. Livestock with similar symptoms should be seen by a veterinarian immediately."
West Virginia Department of Agriculture State Veterinarian Gary Kinder says citizens are often less fearful of rabies than they should be because it's a familiar disease that has been around for a long time.
"It's not a matter to be taken lightly," Kinder says. "Rabies is an extremely dangerous disease to all mammals and is always fatal if left untreated. It is carried by a wide variety of wild animals – especially raccoons, skunks and bats – and those wild animals can infect unvaccinated pets and livestock, which can then transmit the disease to unsuspecting humans."
In 2001, West Virginia started a program to slow the spread of the disease in the state. Since that time authorities have airdropped nearly two million vaccine-laden baits throughout the state.