News Release

For Immediate Release
Jaime Sajecki, (804) 652-7921

NOTE: This news release was distributed on 4/19/2012. The information below may no longer be the most up-to-date information available, or may pertain solely to events that occurred in the past. Please contact the person listed as the contact person for this release for the most current information.

Virginia Black Bear Tests Positive for Rabies

On April 17th, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) was contacted by two men who encountered a bear that appeared to be acting very erratically in Afton, Albemarle County, Virginia. The men were driving a small 4-wheel off-road utility vehicle on a large, secluded parcel of land, when a bear approached and began biting the vehicle's tire, and then attempted to enter the occupied vehicle. The men were able to exit the vehicle without injury and ultimately shot and killed the bear.

Because of this bear's highly unusual behavior in addition to the concern that people may have been exposed to rabies, VDGIF law enforcement staff, with the help of a local animal control officer, submitted the specimen required for rabies testing to Virginia Department of Health (VDH) office in Charlottesville. Within 24 hours VDGIF was notified that the bear tested positive for the rabies virus. VDH officials are investigating this incident and determining whether anyone involved in the situation will need post-exposure rabies vaccinations. According to Virginia Bear Project Leader, Jaime Sajecki, "this was a single incident that is exceedingly rare; and because bears are typically solitary animals, there is very little chance other bears have been infected."

Rabies is rarely diagnosed in any species of bear and has never been detected in a Virginia black bear. Rabies was found previously in a single black bear killed in Maryland in 2007, and prior to that, in several black bears in Canada.

The rabies virus is transmitted from infected animals to humans by contact with the saliva or brain/spinal fluid of the infected animal. People usually become infected with rabies after being bitten by a rabid animal, but can become infected if they get saliva or brain tissue in their eyes, nose, mouth or an open wound. If left untreated, rabies is fatal.

The Thomas Jefferson Health Department strongly advises that people take these steps to prevent families and pets from exposure to rabies:

* Vaccinate all cats, dogs and ferrets against rabies and keep them up to date
* Avoid contact with wild animals or stray cats and dogs
* Do not feed wild animals or stray cats and dogs
* Report stray animals to your local animal control agency
* Eliminate outdoor food sources around the home
* Keep pets confined to your property or walk them on a leash
* Always wear gloves if you need to dispose of a dead animal

While rabid animals may act aggressively, not all aggressive animals are rabid. Rabid animals may also be unusually friendly, may appear confused or disoriented, may vocalize abnormally, or be active at odd times of the day.