Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Urges Residents Not to Ground Feed Wild and Domestic Animals
WHEELING, WV –With the recent discovery of a positive raccoon rabies case the health department is urging all City residents not to ground feed wild and domestic animals, especially in residential areas. The positive raccoon rabies case was found in the Woodsdale area of Wheeling on March 15, 2019. This is the first laboratory confirmed animal rabies case in Ohio County for 2019. In 2018 a domestic cat and a wild raccoon both tested positive for rabies within the city limits.
Ground feeding of wild fowl, game birds, pigeons, doves and other birds is currently prohibited under Wheeling City Ordinance 505.08. The ground feeding of other domestic and wild animals, including cats, dogs, deer and raccoons can lead to other public health issues and an increase in some zoonotic diseases.
These diseases include Rabies, Tick-Borne diseases such as Lyme, Mosquito-Borne disease such as West Nile and other zoonotic diseases. Wheeling and West Virginia are currently in a unique geographic location for some public health disease such as Lyme and Rabies.
Numerous problems arise when ground feeding is done for both domestic and wild animals. The intention may be to have a closer encounter with wildlife, to help animals in the winter, or to increase the number of available game animals. However, feeding wildlife interferes with a natural healthy balance between wildlife populations and their habitat.
As wild animals are fed, they become used to the presence of people. Some animals can become a potential threat and can harm both humans and pets. Animals may behave abnormally and have to be lethally removed if they are posing a threat. Additionally, more vehicle collisions may occur as deer are drawn closer to roads nearby homes.
In the wild, animals naturally disperse across the landscape. However, food promotes the concentration of animals into a small area. This increases the potential for diseases to spread. Food gets contaminated with feces, saliva, and urine, which easily harbor infectious disease-causing micro-organisms like bacteria, viruses, prions, or fungi. Once introduced, these diseases are difficult to eliminate and some can be transmitted to humans (zoonosis). Examples of animal diseases that can easily spread due to feeding includes, Chronic Wasting Disease in deer, House Finch Conjunctivitis, Aspergillosis in waterfowl, and Salmonellosis in songbirds.
The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department and other county health departments in West Virginia, along with the United States Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services regularly test animals for rabies throughout the year.
The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is warning residents of Ohio County to be wary of animals acting strangely or aggressively. The health department also reminds residents to keep their pet’s vaccinations up to date. Rabies is a virus capable of infecting warm-blooded animals. Rabies mainly affects the brain. The disease is common in wildlife in North America- notably in bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes. There have not been any naturally occurring cases identified in birds and it is extremely rare in rodents. The disease is usually spread by the bite or scratch of an infected animal. The virus is transmitted through the saliva. Rabies is a virus that if left untreated can be fatal.
Most exposures occur because people don’t consider the risk of rabies. Exposures occur through contact with wildlife or with domestic animals exposed to rabid wildlife. Therefore, avoid raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats and stray or unfamiliar dogs and cats. In addition, wild species, including wild/domestic crossbreeds should not be kept as pets.
For more information contact the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department at 304.234.3682.