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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Sisters begin month-long series of injections after rabid beaver attack

Beavers are not among the most common carriers of rabies.

The Spotsylvania County sisters who were bitten by a rabid beaver Sunday are recovering and have started a month-long series of anti-rabies injections.

Wendy Radnovich, mother of Alyssa and Annabella Radnovich, said Tuesday evening that her daughters were limping slightly but doing well.

“They’re still able to walk around,” she said.

The two girls, ages 11 and 8, were bitten on the legs by a beaver Sunday while swimming in Lake Anna.  A relative killed the animal, and the carcass was taken to a state lab in Richmond, where it was found to be rabid.

The girls went to the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center, where they received the first of what will be a series of anti-rabies shots. Wendy Radnovich said her daughters received two shots each at the hospital and will return there over the next month for more shots.

The standard rabies treatment starts with one shot of rabies vaccine and one shot of anti-rabies immune globulin, said Dr. Oronde Smith, medical director of the emergency department at Spotsylvania Regional. The immune globulin injection is given near the wound site to prevent infection, Smith said. The rabies vaccine is given in the deltoid muscle of the upper arm.

“The rabies vaccine works by stimulating a person’s immune system to produce antibodies that neutralize the virus,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Wendy Radnovich said her daughters will get additional injections of the vaccine on days 3, 7, 14 and 28 following the first treatment. The girls join 21 other people in the Fredericksburg region who have received treatment this year for exposure to rabies.

In 2010, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed the recommended treatment for those bitten by rabid animals. The CDC said that that it was OK to give the victim four doses of the rabies vaccine, rather than five, said Dr. Brooke Rossheim, director of the Rappahannock Area Health District.

“It’s left up to the discretion of the clinician,” Rossheim said. “If people still use the fifth-dose regimen, that’s fine. I have no problem with that.”

Rabies is a potentially fatal virus, usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected animal. Through June 30, 11 rabid animals have been identified in the Fredericksburg area, Rossheim said. These included a cat, four skunks and six raccoons.

The number of confirmed cases in the region appears to be on the rise after a decline of several years. Statewide, there were 286 confirmed cases through June 30, compared to 291 cases through the same period last year.

Rabid beavers almost never make it into these statistics. The Lake Anna beaver is only the fourth case in Virginia in the last decade, said Stuart Hutter, epidemiologist with the Department of Health. In its annual report on rabies, the Health Department does not list beavers among the 12 most common carriers.

“In Virginia, the main rabies carriers tend to be the same ones from year to year: raccoon, skunk, fox and bats. Those are the big hitters,” Rossheim said.

No one knows for sure how the Lake Anna beaver acquired rabies, though the case suggests a shoreline fight between the beaver and a rabid fox or raccoon.

“Wild animals get exposed the same way people get exposed, which is through the bite of a rabid animal,” Rossheim said.