Rabies concerns high in Berkeley Co.

April 26, 1999

Bite victimBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The ordeal of rabies shots is over for Desirae Hite, but the nightmares continue for the 8-year-old Martinsburg girl who was bitten last month by a rabid red fox.

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And with the three confirmed cases of rabid animals already in Berkeley County this year equaling the total for last year, county officials are bracing for more.

"It's going to be a bad year for rabies," said the county's environmental health supervisor, Twila Carr.

In the weeks since Desirae was bitten in the yard of a friend's home on Fairview Drive, two raccoons have also been found with the potentially deadly disease.


Heightening Carr's concern is that each of the three cases was in a different part of the county.

One of the raccoons was found on Rocky Marsh Road near W.Va. 45 and the other was found on Douglas Grove Road.

Carr is unsure why there has been an increase in rabies cases this year but attributes part of the rise to the decreasing amount of woodlands that has accompanied the county's increase in economic development.

"We're developing so quickly that we're scaring animals out into the open where there is more contact with people - and their pets," said Carr.

Desirae and her mother, Pam, said they have often seen wild animals around their home, but they had never seen any sick animals before Desirae's attack on March 26.

Playing with a group of friends, Desirae was hurt when a rabid fox latched onto her upper left arm with its teeth.

After one of Desirae's friends tried to pull the animal off her daughter's arm, Pam pried the fox off and held it to the ground until her husband arrived.

Desirae's father, Michael, had to receive a series of rabies shots after he was scratched while trying to break the fox's neck.

While the attack has left Desirae with emotional scars - she doesn't like to go outside alone - she hopes her ordeal will help prevent a repeat elsewhere in the county.

"I'm just glad it happened to me and not to anyone else," she said.

Rabies is most common in raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats - all nocturnal animals, Carr said.

"When they show up during the day it could mean something is wrong," she said.

Some infected animals may appear sluggish or demented, but others may not, said Carr.

Despite her fears of more rabies cases this year, Carr said there is no way to predict how high the number might be.

The best way to prevent future incidents involving people is for them to avoid wild animals.

Although West Virginia law requires dogs and cats to have rabies vaccinations, some pet owners may not have kept the shots up to date.

Domestic pets who spend time outside can come into contact with rabid animals and pass the disease on to humans.

Anyone who sees an animal that might be rabid can notify the Berkeley County Health Department at (304) 267-7130 or the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources at (304) 267-0037.

Questions about domestic animals that may have come in contact with rabid animals can be directed to Berkeley County Animal Control at (304) 263-4729.

An attack in progress by a rabid animal should be immediately reported to 911.

The increase in rabies has also drawn the attention of health and emergency workers who will use a May 19 meeting at the 167th Air National Guard base to discuss ways to handle the disease.

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