Vermont Health Department warns of upsurge in rabies in Chittenden County

Ten Chittenden County animals have tested positive for rabies since July. Photo by Niklas Jeromin

The Vermont Department of Health is warning residents to take precautions as the number of ground-dwelling animals testing positive for rabies in Chittenden County has increased.

Ten animals have tested positive for rabies in the county since July, according to the department.

In a typical year, Chittenden County only sees one or two rabid animals, most often bats, said Natalie Kwit, state public health veterinarian for the health department.

“It’s still a mystery to us why this is happening. But, you know, it’s a hit as far as we detect it,” Kwit said.

No rabies cases were reported in Chittenden County in 2021, according to health department tracking data. Fourteen have been detected since January, including only two in bats and 12 in skunks and raccoons.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that infects mammals, including humans. It is most commonly seen in raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, and groundhogs and is usually spread by the bite of an infected animal.

The state has never recorded a human case of rabies, according to Kwit.

In response to the rise, the US Department of Agriculture hand-vaccinated more than 700 raccoons, skunks and foxes in Vermont – a program that began earlier this month and ended October 14.

The program has expanded into the federal ministry’s annual rabies vaccine bait distribution, which has operated since 1997 and usually takes place in mid-summer.

Of the 10 infected animals found since July, five were found in South Burlington, two in Burlington and the other three in Charlotte, Shelburne and Colchester. The last positive rabies test was collected on October 8.

The health department advises residents to avoid contact with wild animals, report animals that appear sick or aggressive by calling the Vermont Rabies Hotline (1-800-4-RABIES), and to vaccinate their pets against rabies.

The USDA will continue to monitor and submit animals that die or behave strangely in Chittenden County to be tested for rabies.

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