Rabies warning issued after beaver attack

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

FAIRFAX, Va. – Officials have issued a rabies warning after a woman was bitten by a rabid beaver while swimming in a popular Fairfax County lake.

Lillian Petersen, 83, is undergoing treatment for exposure to rabies after she was attacked on Tuesday in Lake Barcroft. The beaver who bit her tested positive for the disease Wednesday.

Lake Barcroft residents will be receiving flyers over the next few days reminding them about the dangers of rabies.

“If you see wildlife that might be acting strangely or that you’re concerned about, you can give us a call,” says Lucy Caldwell from the Fairfax County police department that includes animal control officers.

Dr. Peter Troell, the medical epidemiologist at the Fairfax Health Department, says rabies in humans – which can be fatal if not treated – is very rare. There are about one to four cases in the United States each year.

“We do identify in our laboratories somewhere between 40 to 60 animals which test positive for rabies each year,” says Troell.

They test between 200 and 250 suspected cases on average.

The most common exposure for humans is through their own pets, which may come in contact with wild animals. Caldwell says vaccinating your pets against rabies is required by law in Fairfax County and most other jurisdictions.

If you are bitten by any animal you should see a physician and call the health department, Troell says. Rabies shots are usually given as a precaution to people exposed to a rabid animal and the treatment will prevent the disease if you are exposed. We have more tips on how to watch for rabies here.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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