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Health officials issue warning about rabies

June 24, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

A Washington County couple are receiving rabies shots after being exposed to the virus through an infected raccoon, and health officials are urging people to be careful around animals that could be carrying the fatal disease.

"It's not a false scare," said Rodney MacRae, director of Environmental Health for the Washington County Health Department.

So far this year nine animals - eight raccoons and a skunk - have tested positive for rabies in Washington County.

Debbie and Jay Rockenhauser, who live on Chestnut Grove Road near Keedysville, are undergoing rabies shots after being exposed earlier this month.

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"I want to warn people because we have a lot of kids up here," said Debbie Rockenhauser.

She and her husband were exposed after they killed a raccoon at their home on June 14. The raccoon had been acting in an aggressive manner and had killed a kitten, Rockenhauser said.

In attempting to dispose of the raccoon and kitten, the couple came into contact with raccoon saliva, she said.

A few days later, rabies tests on the raccoon came back positive, and the Rockenhausers began receiving their shots immediately.

Rockenhauser said she wants to get the word out about rabies, especially now that school is out for the summer and children could be exposed to the disease.

Last week, a raccoon killed in Indian Springs also tested positive. As a result, two dogs that were bitten by the raccoon were put down.

MacRae said the cases this year are not out of the ordinary either in number or location. But this is the time of the year when the number of cases tends to rise because people spend more time outdoors, he said.

"It's definitely an ongoing concern for us," MacRae said.

Rabies, a virus that attacks the central nervous system, is spread through the saliva of infected animals. Humans exposed to rabies are treated through a series of shots over 28 days. Left untreated, rabies is fatal.

Rabid animals could turn up almost anywhere in the county, especially in rural areas that provide habitat for raccoons and other animals, MacRae said. He and others have warned against contact with wild animals.

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