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Residents warned to stay clear of strays

May 24, 2003|By SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Don't be friendly with unfamiliar cats, Washington County Health Department spokesman Rod MacRae said Friday.

This is the time of year when Washington County residents spend more time outdoors and are more likely to come across stray animals, including cats, MacRae said.

But if you happen to see a stray cat, resist the urge to be friendly and feed and encourage it, he said. Such animals can carry rabies, a viral infection of the brain.

When someone is scratched or bitten by a cat and the cat's health status is unknown, the Health Department advises the person to see their personal physician for a recommendation on whether they need to get a rabies shot, MacRea said.

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When the Health Department finds a cat that tests positive for rabies, department workers seek out others who were bitten or scratched by the cat, he said.

While other animals can also spread rabies, cats are the biggest problem in Washington County, MacRea said.

The last case of a Maryland person contracting rabies was in 1976. Since the disease can be fatal, the Health Department each year warns people to stay away from unfamiliar animals, MacRae said.

If you are bitten, the Health Department advises cleansing the wound thoroughly with water or soap and water, drying it and applying antiseptic. Call a doctor or go to an emergency room, and report the bite to the Washington County Sheriff's Department or Hagerstown City Police.

Health officials made the following suggestions:

-- Do not try to catch, feed or approach a stray or wild animal.

-- Stay away from stray or wild animals even if the animal seems tame and friendly.

-- Walk - do not run - away from animals you do not know.

-- Do not keep wild animals as pets.

-- Recognize unusual behavior in animals.

-- Never try to separate two animals who are fighting. The Health Department said to be wary of animals who appear slow or seem unaware of their surroundings.

Wild animals usually stay away from people and don't venture into areas where people live or work.

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