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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Rabid fox is slain
After biting county man

Thursday, February 20, 2014

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A Henry County man is getting post-exposure rabies treatments after being bitten by a rabid fox Feb. 9, according to a state health department official.

The incident occurred on Blue Ridge Yacht Club Road, near Philpott Lake, according to Tim Baker, environmental manager for the West Piedmont Health District of the Virginia Department of Health. His district includes the city of Martinsville and Henry, Patrick and Franklin counties.

The man “came out onto his front porch. A gray fox ran up onto the porch and bit him on the elbow. The gentleman ended up killing it with an ax,” Baker said.

The animal was sent for tests to determine whether it was rabid. “We got the results back yesterday (Tuesday). It was (rabid), and the gentleman who was bit is receiving the post-exposure treatment,” Baker said.

Hearing about a confirmed case of rabies when there is snow on the ground may surprise some people, but Baker said it is not uncommon.

“Rabies is a year-round disease, and though we typically see an increase during the spring, summer and fall, that’s only because it’s warmer, and people tend to be outside more” and interacting more with animals, Baker said. “The disease is certainly prevalent in the wildlife population year-round.”

From 2012 through the first part of this year, Baker said there have been a total of 25 confirmed rabies cases in the district — eight cases in each Henry and Patrick counties and nine cases in Franklin County. The animals that most frequently test positive are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and a horse in Patrick County, he said.

Rabies is a virus that attacks the nervous system. Once contracted, the illness is deadly and kills almost any mammal or person who gets sick, according to Baker and the Department of Health.

The virus, which exists mainly in the saliva and brain of rabid animals, can be transmitted through a bite or by getting saliva or brain tissue in a wound. Rarely is it contracted by getting the virus in the eye or mouth, according to the VDH.

The best and most effective ways to limit exposure is to get dogs, cats and ferrets vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian, Baker said.

Even animals that stay inside should be vaccinated because “bats can get into the house and can expose people and animals, and you don’t even know,” he said.

Also, don’t allow pets to run free or roam, don’t leave food outside when not actively feeding pets, and “if you suspect that you or your companion animal were exposed, contact animal control or the health department immediately,” Baker said.

He said one of the biggest prevention measures is to not keep wild animal as pets.

“We still hear about people catching wild animals” such as baby raccoons and others, he said. Also “avoid picking up stray animals, and if you see a stray animal acting unusual or strange, call animal control.”

If searching for a new pet, he suggested contacting the local animal control office, SPCA or animal welfare group.

If an animal is on the roadside and you are concerned for its safety, Baker suggested calling animal control because there are procedures to help return lost pets to their owners as well as options for saving unwanted or abandoned pets.

A pre-exposure vaccine is available for those who trap or skin animals or otherwise work closely with animals, Baker said. He suggested that people at high risk of contracting rabies should consult a physician or a health department official.

There are booster rabies vaccines for companion animals that have been vaccinated and are not yet due for another vaccine, Baker said. If someone is concerned or worried about a pet, Baker suggested taking the animal to the veterinarian to determine whether there are any obvious signs of a bite and a recommendation on a booster vaccine.

“Once they start showing signs of the disease, there is no cure,” he said. “The most effective barrier is the current and continuing vaccinations of domestic animals by a licensed veterinarian.”

For more information about rabies, visit or the local health department.


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