Vet Employees to Get Rabies Shots

By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 6, 2007

Health officials said last week that they had recommended rabies vaccinations for 20 veterinary workers in Loudoun and Fauquier counties who may have been exposed to a rabid dog.

The case involves a 14-month-old female pug admitted to at least three Northern Virginia animal clinics last month before Loudoun County health officials determined that the dog had rabies.

Once the animal tested positive for the virus, health officials notified all the clinic employees who had come into contact with the dog, said Charles Shepherd, a Fauquier County health official. Shepherd said it was unclear why the dog was taken to more than one clinic.

Rabies can spread through blood and saliva and affects the nervous system of humans, leading to hallucinations and paralysis. Rabies vaccinations are administered in one to five doses, generally over 28 days.

Sixteen people who work at the Loudoun emergency animal clinic where the dog's condition was ultimately diagnosed have been told to begin rabies vaccinations, said David Goodfriend, director of the county health department.

Health officials did not release the names of the clinics involved, citing privacy concerns. But Bill Bush, a veterinary neurologist at the Life Center in Leesburg, said that facility is where the dog was euthanized.

Bush said he was among those who handled the dog when it was admitted April 9. He said he and other employees were not wearing protective gloves or masks when examining the dog because its owner said it had been vaccinated against rabies. Bush said that it is not customary to ask clients for proof of vaccination.

The animal was exhibiting such symptoms as weakness, poor vision and excessive salivation when it was admitted, which led Bush to believe that it had encephalitis. When those symptoms worsened the next day, the dog was euthanized and tested for rabies. Positive results were confirmed April 13, Bush said.

Shepherd said that a few times a year, he will hear about an owner who is unaware that his or her pet has rabies and exposes it to a large group of people.

"Maybe an animal was taken to a party two days before. Maybe it was a show animal or at a petting zoo. There are any number of situations," he said.

The number of cases in which people and pets come into contact with rabid wild animals is also on the rise, Shepherd said.

"We're closing in and reducing their habitats, and it's just logical that there is going to be more contact between humans and animals," he said.

In Loudoun County last year, there were 30 reported cases of rabies in animals, up from 18 the year before, according to the Virginia Department of Health Web site. So far in 2007, there have been eight reported cases of rabies in Loudoun, six of them in raccoons.

Health officials say it is important to avoid wild animals, especially in the summer, when people are likely to spend more time outdoors.

The best precaution that pet owners can take is to get a rabies vaccination for their animals, which is required by law for all dogs and cats older than 4 months, said Laura Danis, spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Animal Care and Control Department. Vaccines are not foolproof, and booster shots are necessary. Local veterinarians offer low-cost vaccinations, Danis said.

Loudoun Shelter Advocates, a group for lost and neglected animals, will sponsor a rabies vaccination clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 20 at the Leesburg volunteer fire station, 215 Loudoun St. SW, Leesburg. The cost is $5. Vaccinated animals will received a vaccination certificate and tag valid for up to one year.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company