Williams said scientists have a hard time figuring out the prevalence of rabies, which originates in wild animals. It is nearly impossible to count the number of animals in the wild and determine how many have the virus.
“You can look and say objectively that 13 (cases) is larger than 10, but if you don’t know the population from which you’re drawing, then you don’t want to make many inferences about it,” he said.
Williams said the strand of rabies found on the East Coast originates from raccoons.
“A raccoon may be infected for several weeks, whereas a cat, once it becomes infectious, is going to die within four or five days,” he said. “There is less opportunity for them to spread the virus.”
Jason Allen, the district biologist that oversees Orange County, said one way to cut down on the spread of the disease is to avoid leaving food outside for pets or raccoons.
“A lot of the cases that we see are in urban areas where this type of thing is going on,” he said.
If animals share the same food, rabies can be spread by one infected animal’s saliva.
“If one raccoon has rabies, there’s a good chance that every raccoon that eats out of that bowl of dog food will get rabies,” Allen said.
, Chapel Hill’s parks and recreation director, said residents should be on the lookout for potential rabies cases. “It’s a combination of everybody that uses our facilities just to be more aware of the areas around them and making sure that if someone does see a stray animal, report it,” Orr said.
While the number of rabies cases in Orange County is rising, Orr said the virus has not been a problem in Chapel Hill in the four years he has been with parks and recreation.
“I know that the number of cases that have been brought to my attention in Chapel Hill are very, very low,” he said.
Williams said the disease can be found year-round, but the summer does see more.
“The difference is, we have more animals submitted for testing and, consequently, more positive animals in the summer just because it’s summer, and people are outside,” he said.
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