PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — The city of Petersburg was placed under a “Rabies Alert” on Thursday after a rabid cat was found in the community. Animal Control officials believe the cat is likely to have come in contact with numerous other animals.

The Crater Health District encompasses multiple localities including Dinwiddie, Emporia, and Prince George County. A spokesperson for the district — Toinette Waldon — said there have been 287 “wildlife incidents” this year.

An “incident” is an encounter between a wild animal and a human that could have resulted in rabies exposure. Positive tests are intermittent and limited, but dangerous. The Crater Health District is at five positive cases of rabies.

The current warning is largely pre-emptive to an anticipated spike in cases following the recent discovery of the rabid cat. The protective guidelines apply to multiple areas under Crater Health District’s jurisdiction.

“It’s a way of getting the word out to the community as fast as possible,” Waldon said.

Petersburg residents are encouraged to keep their pets indoors or under close supervision. Contracting the disease is almost always lethal for animals.

“Rabies is a fatal disease, but it is preventable,” Waldon said.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, vaccination is the primary way to prevent domestic animals from contracting the disease. If a human believes there’s a chance he or she came in contact with a feral animal, there are vaccinations that can be administered retroactively in an effort to halt the disease from inflicting its full array of damages.

The exterior of the Petersburg Health Department. (Photo: Sierra Krug, 8News)

Minimizing contact with wildlife is another safe way to protect oneself. Cat Long with the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts told 8News that interactions with certain animals can come with a greater risk than interactions with others, particularly bats, foxes and raccoons.

Local health departments and animal control units can track rabies cases in domestic animals or animals that underwent rabies testing, but they cannot track the full extent of potential spread among wildlife in the area. Long explained how the inability to reliably calculate the full scale of legitimate concern only exasperates the importance that pet owners, in particular, remain alert.

“It is a little bit challenging to tell because typically we find out about it after an incident, so it’s hard to estimate the amount of rabies that exists in our wildlife population,” Long said.

This summer, Hanover, Henrico, Richmond, Dinwiddie, and Petersburg have had confirmed cases of rabies in animals. Even though many people associate the disease with more rural areas abundant in wildlife, one interaction could lead to more widespread exposure.

“It can happen anywhere,” Long said. “Rabies can happen in rural areas, suburban areas, and urban areas.”

Human cases, however, are far rarer. No localities have had confirmed cases of rabies in humans in 2022. Although less likely than their furry counterparts, humans can contract the disease. If you suspect there’s a chance you were exposed to a rabid critter, the Virginia Department of Health says to contact your local health department and animal control unit.