Case of “Dumb Rabies” confirmed in West Virginia.

as depHere a penned dog is afflicted with dumb rabies, manifested ression, lethargy and a seemingly overly tame disposition. Photo courtesy of

West Virginia 10/20/10 by Martin Saunton – More rabies cases are reported in Greenbrier County and one in particular is especially unsettling because it did not manifest the symptoms that many people are familiar with when it comes to the potentially deadly virus.

The Greenbrier County Health Department has been dealing with an elevated rabies case load for several years now, but the discovery of a sick dog in Alderson on Oct. 13 revealed a confirmed rabies case that surprised the experts in Greenbrier County, as they confirm a case of dumb rabies here. Amanda McMichael is the registered sanitarian with the Greenbrier County Health Department who dealt with the dog’s owner and the rabies test results.

“The dog simply appeared healthy to them one day and the next morning it was in a state of shock more or less. Low body temperature, loss of coordination, really not moving, as a matter of fact, rather than drooling, the dog had a dry mouth,” said McMichael.

McMichael identified the strain of the virus as dumb rabies and she says when it comes to the symptoms, dumb rabies can present itself in a way totally opposite of most people’s perception of what a rabid animal should look like. Foaming or frothing at the mouth and aggressive behaviors are well documented and publicized when it comes to rabies, but McMichael says those symptoms are for what’s called Furious Rabies. It is the more common form of the disease.

Close-up of a dog's face during late-stage "dumb" paralytic rabies. Animals with "dumb" rabies appear depressed, lethargic, and uncoordinated. Gradually they become completely paralyzed. When their throat and jaw muscles are paralyzed, the animals will drool and have difficulty swallowing. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Dumb rabies doesn’t include any of those symptoms, but it’s just as deadly for your pet and carries the same, potentially fatal impact on human health for those who are exposed to it.

“Most people don’t understand what an exposure is. You never want to just assume that you’re not exposed just because it didn’t involve blood or some other body fluid…. If a dog is infected and you have an open wound and the dog licks that wound, you’ve been exposed,” explains McMichael.

She says the case in Alderson should reinforce the message about avoiding sick animals and making sure your pets and animals are vaccinated against the rabies virus, as that inoculation will protect your pets and your family.

“Rabies can really wreak havoc on a body and how that’s gonna manifest and what you’re gonna see is not something predetermined. We need to be cautious in this area knowing that we live with this around us,” McMichael said.

She adds that both dumb and furious rabies can take months to incubate in people and in their pets and it’s only transmitted to others during the symptomatic phase. Exposure should be reported to medical authorities like the Health Department within 24 hours of exposure. In animals and people, if the rabies virus reaches the central nervous system before treatment, it’s considered to be 100 percent fatal. McMichael says the dog in Alderson had to be euthanized.


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