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Southwest Virginia health officials confirm second case of rabies

(PHOTO: USDA)

Virginia health officials confirm a second case of rabies in Wise County as the United States Department of Agriculture begins its distribution of oral rabies vaccination packets to keep the disease from spreading.

USDA officials design a 13-mile radius from the point of positive identification to distribute the packets. The importance of distributing the oral vaccines elevated after the second case of the disease was confirmed Tuesday night. A rabid raccoon was found within two miles of the first case.

"If a pet were to come into contact with a rabid animal, say a raccoon, and that pet is not vaccinated, there's unfortunately nothing that can be done for that pet. The pet's going to have to be euthanized," Betsy Haley said. Haley serves as the assistant project field manager for the USDA's Rabies Management Program.

Rabies is rare in the area. According to health department officials, the most recent cases in the Lenowisco district were found in 2006 and 2013 in bats.

"Rabies cases are uncommon, however we are concerned about them because when an animal is diagnosed with rabies, it's almost 100 percent of the time it ends up being fatal," said Dr. Gil Patterson, a veterinarian with the Center for Animal and Human Health in Appalachia for Lincoln-Memorial University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

The USDA and contracted pilots plan to distribute 354,000 oral rabies vaccination packets across Wise, Lee, Scott, and bordering Kentucky counties.

"We want to make sure it doesn't get any further west," Haley said.

Each plane carries approximately 20,000 packets per flight. The operations should run throughout the end of the week.

Although this is some protection for wildlife in the area, health officials hope exposure to the deadly disease remains low. They also hope pet owners take precautions.

"We want to encourage people to vaccinate their pets and keep their vaccinations up to date," Lenowisco Health District epidemiologist Melissa Hamilton said.

USDA officials say these vaccine packets are not harmful to humans or pets if they are dropped near your home. If handled, officials ask people to pick them up with a paper towel or gloves and place them in an area where wildlife travel.

Official will also conduct another rabies vaccine drop in the fall.

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