(01/27/2001)
By Bob Weaver

West Virginia's rabies outbreak may be reaching Calhoun and Wirt Counties, with a validated rabid fox killed on Little Creek. Pat Fulmer, sanitarian for the Wirt County Health Department said "There is a positive result on a gray fox head" from Calhoun County. The head contained "raccoon-strain" rabies.

The fox was pistol shot by Tim Carpenter of Stutler Ridge near a well site. Carpenter reported the animal was acting strangely.

Cliff Brown, wildlife specialist with the DNR at French Creek, told The Herald the "raccoon strain" rabies has been moving south and west in West Virginia for several years, identified first in the eastern panhandle during the 1970's. "I didn't expect it to catch Wirt and Calhoun this quickly," he said.

Brown said "Don't panic, but beware. Raccoons are the primary carriers." People really need to protect their pets (by getting them vaccinated), thus protecting themselves.

"We will be looking for some further validation of rabies in the raccoon population," Brown said. There is a new prevention program that vaccinates wild animals before the problem becomes severe. The vaccine is placed in food pellets and dropped in the woods. "It is a way of keeping ahead of the problem."

Conservation Officer Tom Fox said, hunters and trappers should begin to take extra precautions, particularly in handling the kills.

Harold Stutler of Little Creek, well-known outdoors man, hunter, fisherman and trapper, believes rabies has spread to the local raccoon population. He told The Herald he had killed five raccoons recently that presented rabies-like symptoms and has found at least twenty other dead raccoons. "There is no doubt in my mind it is in the coons," he said.

Calhoun Sheriff Allen Parsons said "I hope people will not overreact to the problem." Parsons said he will be requesting an expansion of the vaccination program for cats and dogs.

Dog Warden Ron Gordon said local veterinarian Dr. Joe Cain has conducted a vaccination program in the county for many years, offering the shots at half-price. "I think about half of the pets in the county have received the vaccine," said Gordon. "It could become a real problem."

Calhoun has had several rabies outbreaks over the years. The best remembered one was in the 1960's when many people were bitten by foxes. "Many had to take the shots," said Stutler. "They put a bounty on foxes at $3 each. I remembering killing 56 myself."

The original treatment for rabies was risky and difficult, injecting several shots directly into the stomach. Today's treatment, although very expensive, has minimal reactions and is very effective. "Prevention is the biggest cure," said Brown.

"We will stay on top of the problem in Calhoun," said Sheriff Allen Parsons.

TOMORROW: Important need to know information about raccoon-strain rabies and what you can do to help with the problem.


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