MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A cat that later tested positive for rabies attacked two Suncrest residents last week in separate incidents, but the situation has been complicated by an area cat colony that interacted with the rabid cat, according to a release from the Monongalia County Health Department.

The release stated that both of the residents who were attacked live on Legion Street and are undergoing post-exposure rabies treatment.

Following the attacks, the cat interacted with a cat colony in the Legion Street area and according to the release, state law requires that these cats be collected. If there is documented proof that a cat has had a rabies vaccine, there would be the option to re-vaccinate the cat for rabies and have it confined and observed for 45 days, according the Monongalia County Health Department (MCHD.)

The release stated that if there is no documented proof that the cat has been vaccinated for rabies, it can be quarantined in a double cage with no human or animal contact for six months if someone is willing to pay for that, to make sure it is rabies free. Otherwise, it would be euthanized.

“Rabies is spread through saliva,” said Dr. Lee B. Smith, MCHD executive director and county health officer. “So if the cats are eating out of the same bowl and drinking out of the same water trough, not to mention cat fighting, the chance of rabies being spread in this colony is really high.”

MCHD is urging any residents of Legion Street who have cats or dogs that have been allowed to roam around to keep an eye on their animals and not let them outside unattended for 45 days. The release states that all cats, dogs and ferrets are required by West Virginia State law to be up to date on rabies vaccines.

“It is not a suggestion,” Dr. Smith said. “It’s the law.”

MCHD Environmental Health sanitarians will be going out into Morgantown Friday to distribute Oral Rabies Vaccine (ORV) baits. MCHD spent $1,566 to buy 1,080 baits for the drop, according to Jon Welch, program manager of MCHD Environmental Health.

The Health Department is also warning residents to not leave pet food outside.

“It does attract strays and raccoons, and we know we have a rabies issue,” Dr. Smith said.

There have been 14 reported incidents of raccoons that have tested positive for rabies in Monongalia County in 2019, according to the release. Of those raccoons, five of them had encounters with family dogs. According to the health department, those dogs had to be re-vaccinated for rabies and observed for 45 days. Additionally, the release states that if the dogs’ owners were exposed or potentially exposed to the dog’s blood or saliva, they would need to undergo post-exposure rabies prophylaxis.

MCHD Environmental Health was alerted to the situation with the cat late in the afternoon on Friday, August 30, after receiving a call about the cat’s second victim, who saw the cat in the bushes. The release stated that unprovoked, the cat aggressively scratched the person on the arm, according to MCHD registered sanitarian Joe Lawson.

The release stated that the cat was killed with a pellet gun by a family member and brought to MCHD. It was then learned that the cat had also bitten a neighbor. The cat was then sent to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Office of Laboratory services, where it was learned that the cat tested positive for rabies.

The health department said that someone who has an encounter with a strange and potentially rabid animal should wash out the wound with soap and water and seek treatment at an emergency department if post-exposure rabies prophylaxis might be required.

“If you go to your physician or a doc-in-the-box, they’re not going to have rabies vaccine,” Dr. Smith said. “We don’t routinely stock rabies vaccine unless we have ordered it for a patient who needs it if they are traveling to a place with rabies, if we are updating local veterinarian staff, or for some other reason.”

Other emergency departments such as Ruby Memorial Hospital and Mon Health Medical Center would have rabies immunoglobulin and rabies vaccine on hand, Dr. Smith noted.

The hand-bating that will be done Friday by MCHD Environmental Health will include areas around Green Bag Road, Richwood Avenue, parts of West over and Star City and the rail-trail downtown.