Residents in Chittenden County are being urged to take precautions due to a higher than expected number of ground-dwelling animals in the county testing positive for rabies, a deadly viral disease that infects mammals, including humans.
Since July 2022, 10 animals have tested positive for rabies in Chittenden County, including eight raccoons and two skunks. The total includes five animals in South Burlington, two in Burlington, and one in Charlotte, Shelburne, and Colchester. The most recent positive specimen was collected on Oct. 8.
“In a typical year, we would expect to see about one to two rabid animals from Chittenden County, most commonly in bats,” said Natalie Kwit, DVM, state public health veterinarian for the Health Department. “It’s important that residents take reasonable precautions, such as avoiding contact with wild animals, reporting animals that are acting sick or aggressive, and vaccinating their pets for rabies, so they can enjoy being outside and appreciate wildlife from a safe distance.”
If you are bitten by an animal: wash the wound very well with soap and water and contact your health care provider. Follow their instructions.
If your pet or farm animal was bitten by a wild or stray animal that might have rabies, contact your veterinarian. State law requires dogs and cats to be vaccinated — even barn cats. Always feed pets inside the house and keep them indoors at night. If they are outdoors during the day, keep them on a leash or in an enclosed space. Pets that roam free are more likely to be exposed to rabies.
If you see a wild or stray animal acting strangely, or are concerned about a rabies exposure, call the Vermont Rabies Hotline (1-800-4-RABIES).
Do not touch or pick up wild or stray animals – even baby animals – or try to make them into pets. This can put yourself or your family at risk of exposure. You can’t tell if an animal has rabies just by looking at it. Interacting with young wildlife may result in them being orphaned or, if tested for rabies, requires humanely euthanizing the animal. So, for their own sake, leave wildlife in the wild.
Rabies is a deadly viral disease of the brain that infects mammals and without post-exposure treatment is fatal to both humans and animals. In Vermont, rabies is most often seen in raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats and woodchucks, but pets and livestock can also get the disease if they have not been vaccinated for rabies. The virus is spread primarily through the bite of an infected animal.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services’ rabies vaccine bait drop, which has happened annually since 1997, has largely prevented rabies in wild ground-dwelling animals in northern Vermont, including Chittenden County. In response to this uptick in cases, USDA Wildlife Services has taken additional measures, including hand vaccinating over 700 raccoons, skunks, and foxes for rabies before releasing them back into the wild during their routine annual fall trapping program that ended on Oct. 14. The USDA will continue their rabies surveillance in Chittenden County by submitting strange-behaving and deceased animals to the Health Department Laboratory for rabies testing.
Learn more about rabies in Vermont – visit www.healthvermont.gov/rabies.