The Vermont Department of Health is urging hikers and pet owners to keep their distance from wild animals after ten reported cases of the rabies virus since July.

Natalie Kwit, public health veterinarian at the department, said if you should come in contact with an animal outdoors, consider seeing your doctor.

“There are vaccinations for it both in humans and animals,” Kwit said “We want pets to have routine rabies vaccines for that reason, but there is also post exposure treatment that humans can get.”

Kwit says more than 30 animals have tested positive for rabies in Vermont this year, including eight raccoons and two skunks in Chittenden County. Kwit said Chittenden County typically sees one or two case per year, usually in bats.

The deadly virus is transmitted through an animal’s infected saliva, usually by way of a bite. Kwit stresses that post-exposure treatment with a series of shots is vital.

“It’s nearly 100 percent effective if given promptly after exposure to a rabid animal,” she said. “When it’s not effective is when you come down with rabies yourself.” 

To combat a rabies spread, the USDA has conducted an annual vaccine bait drop for the last 25 years that has held cases in check. The agency has also been been trapping and hand-vaccinating hundreds of raccoons, foxes, and skunks.

“That has been effective in preventing rabies in terrestrial wildlife in the Northern part of Vermont,” Kwit said. :”So it is strange for us to see that this year so many animals are testing positive.”

Kwit says the USDA will continue their rabies surveillance and send animal specimens for testing. Kwit also urges people to make sure their pets get necessary vaccinations.