Murphy is Virginia's state public health veterinarian, a position she has held since 2006. This week is Rabies Awareness Week in Virginia.
How prevalent of a disease is rabies in animals and humans?
We typically report between 500 to 600 laboratory-confirmed cases per year [in Virginia]. The animal we're going to report most often is raccoon. We usually report 300, and half as many for skunks and half as many for foxes. Greater than 80 percent of all the cases in the U.S. and Virginia have been in wild animals. We've gone this year so far without reporting any human rabies cases in the country. We'll typically report two or three cases of human rabies.
How can people prevent rabies from reaching humans?
Vaccinated dogs and cats provide an important barrier between where rabies is typical found -- in the wild -- and people. If you can protect the animals that have the most contact with the wildlife that attract rabies, the higher chance you have of protecting yourself. We ask people to appreciate wildlife from a distance, which means never adopting wildlife as pets. We try to remind people that there are ways to help animals that are in trouble or ill, and that is by calling your local Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries office.
What are the symptoms of rabies?
A lot of animals will start out with a behavioral change. ... Pretty soon, when an animal has rabies, not long after those signs appear, an animal will decline quickly, with signs like paralysis or seizures. Any mammal that becomes ill with rabies typically won't survive.
Between "Old Yeller" and "Cujo," awareness for rabies has come a long way. How has the fight to prevent rabies changed?
We have done a good job in this country of decreasing the level of domestic animal rabies. We always need to remind people that it's because we vaccinate we're able to keep rabies cases low.