Two foxes, a bat and a stray kitten have tested positive for rabies in recent days in Fairfax County, but state officials said the string of cases was not unusual.
"It's just coincidence that there were four in four days," Suzanne Jenkins, a state epidemiologist, said yesterday. "We're at a steady state of rabies infection in Virginia with little peaks and valleys."
By the end of June, 41 animals had tested positive this year for rabies in Fairfax County, Fairfax City and Falls Church, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Last year, 50 of 542 cases statewide were reported in the three jurisdictions.
Rabies is a deadly, viral disease that attacks the nervous system of mammals. It can be transmitted through a bite or by getting saliva or brain tissue in a wound or in an eye or the mouth.
The rabies virus, which kills nearly every mammal -- humans included -- that gets sick from it, is mainly found in the saliva and brain of rabid animals.
"The majority go off and die and never come to our attention," Jenkins said.
Each year, Fairfax County -- with more than 1 million residents, the most populous county in the state -- has the highest number of reported rabies cases in Virginia, said Michelle Stoll, spokeswoman for the state Health Department.
"There are a whole lot more people to come in contact with these [infected] animals," Stoll said. "It's not to say that there aren't as many in other parts of the state."
According to Fairfax County police, four animals were sent to the county Health Department and tested positive for rabies in recent days:
* On July 3, an adult male fox threatened a 44-year-old woman while she was walking one of her two dogs in the 1100 block of Amanda Drive in Great Falls. Her dog attacked and killed the rabid fox. Both of her dogs received rabies boosters and were quarantined at home.
* On Sunday, an unlicensed adult pit bull attacked and killed a rabid fox. The dog had been tied to a backyard tree in the 11000 block in the Fairfax area. The dog's owner was cited for not having proof of rabies vaccination, and the dog was quarantined.
* On Monday, an Annandale woman in the 7400 block of Little River Turnpike was bitten by an aggressive, rabid stray kitten. The woman is receiving follow-up care from the Health Department.
* On Tuesday, a Fairfax man found a rabid bat near the 3700 block of Mazewood Court in the Chantilly area. The bat appeared to be sick.
Until the mid-1950s, most rabid animals in the United States were dogs whose close proximity to humans created a public health problem. But since then, animal control, leash laws and vaccination campaigns have changed the face of rabies.
Raccoons and skunks top the list of reported rabies cases in the state. Raccoons account for half of the infected animals, and skunks account for a quarter.