The Virginian-Pilot
                            THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT  
              Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Tuesday, November 8, 1994              TAG: 9411080346
SECTION: LOCAL                    PAGE: B1   EDITION: FINAL  
DATELINE: VIRGINIA BEACH                     LENGTH: Medium:   88 lines

CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: ***************************************************************** A story Tuesday on rabies should have said that puppies and kittens can be vaccinated for rabies as early as 3 months of age and, by state law, must be vaccinated no later than at 4 months. Correction published Wednesday, November 9, 1994. ***************************************************************** RABIES CASES RISE IN VIRGINIA BEACH INCIDENTS CENTERED IN TWO WIDE-APART SECTIONS OF THE CITY

Three confirmed cases of rabies within 10 days in heavily populated areas of the city have alarmed and puzzled health officials.

The most recent incident was reported Friday in the Great Neck area, where a dog was attacked by a rabid raccoon. It marked the 13th case this year. Until recently, most had been confined to the city's rural southern corridor.

``It's all over the city, but looking at the concentrations, it's the Independence/Thoroughgood area and the southern part of the city,'' said Valerie L. Reich, environmental health supervisor with the Virginia Beach Department of Health.

``These are two extremely different areas. I'd like to know how it made such a big jump and I don't know,'' said Reich, who oversees the department's rabies program.

Reich said rabies incidents have increased, following a trend that began with the city's first confirmed case, reported in August 1992.

The city's rabies incidents usually involve dogs being bitten by rabid raccoons, Reich said. Thankfully, she said, the dogs have usually been vaccinated against rabies and just need a booster shot and a 90-day home confinement period.

Paule A. Toon's shar-pei wasn't so lucky.

Toon heard a ruckus in her fenced back yard in Thoroughgood about 7 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 29. She opened her kitchen door and saw Jake, her 13-week-old pup, locked in a fight with a large raccoon at the foot of her deck.

``I didn't know who had hold of whom,'' said Toon, a nurse. ``They were skirmishing and there was a lot of noise.''

The dog hadn't gotten a rabies vaccination yet because of its age. Puppies must be 4 months old before they can receive the vaccine.

A neighbor heard Toon yelling her dog's name and ran over, using two sticks to separate the animals. He trapped the raccoon under an upturned wheelbarrow and weighted it down with a cement block.

The city's Animal Control Bureau removed the raccoon and, five days later, called the Toons with bad news. The wild animal was rabid.

``I had no idea there was a rabies threat in my neighborhood,'' she said. ``I've never heard of an epidemic type thing.''

There is no epidemic, say health department officials. But the Toons' incident was the 12th involving a rabid animal this year. The case before that, on Oct. 27, was in Aragona near Pembroke Mall. Only eight cases were reported last year.

Under state law, Toon's shar-pei has to be euthanized or kept in isolation for six months to be sure it does not develop the disease. Rabies can be transmitted through a bite or scratch, or contact with saliva that touches the mucus membranes or an open wound on the skin of a healthy animal. The virus attacks the nervous system and goes into the spinal column and finally the brain. If untreated, rabies is always fatal.

Toon and her family said the choice was simple.

``The dog is going to be confined,'' she said, worn out after a day on the telephone trying to find a solution to her problem. Boarding a pet in isolation is expensive, so Toon has decided to build her own pen. Health department officials will check to see that it meets specifications. It must be double-walled and roofed.

And Toon has volunteered to get three post-exposure rabies vaccinations so she can enter the pen, play with the dog and keep him ``people-friendly.''

Meanwhile Jake stays in the care of a veterinarian.

Reich said Toon had used reasonable caution in protecting her dog, but she is alarmed by other pet owners' casual attitudes.

``Last year we had two stray cats in the county test positive for rabies. That's scary when it gets into the domestic populations,'' Reich said. ``It's important to keep cats vaccinated and keep them in the house.

``The first and foremost preventive measure is the vaccination of dogs and cats. That's the barrier that protects humans.'' ILLUSTRATION: Color photo< Raccoon

Cases in the city usually involve dogs that are bitten by rabid