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14 get rabies treatment

June 06, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Health officials said 14 people in Washington County were treated for rabies exposure through the first five months of this year, with the peak months for humans to be exposed to the deadly virus still ahead.

During the same period, 29 animals were tested for rabies, with one fox and two raccoons testing positive, said Roderick A. MacRae, Washington County Health Department spokesman.

Last year, 46 county residents were treated for rabies exposure, MacRae said. And 106 animals were tested in the county, with 14 positive results, according to Health Department statistics.

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The county has had an average of 14 confirmed rabies cases in animals each year since 1996, statistics show. During that time, the number of positive rabies cases peaked at 21 in 1997. There was a low of six cases in 2000.

MacRae said that while domestic animal bites - generally cats and dogs - generate the most reports of animal bites and subsequent rabies investigations, wild animals typically make up most of the positive cases.

Eight raccoons tested positive for rabies in 2001, as did two skunks and one fox. Two cats and no dogs tested positive for rabies that year.

Only a handful of people in the United States die from rabies each year, said county rabies specialist Rebecca Sauceda. Any animal with the disease can transmit it to humans through a bite or its saliva.

Sauceda said although it is less common, the disease also can be contracted by touching rabid animals or their remains. And according to a National Institutes of Health Web site, rabies can be contracted through the air, especially in caves populated by bats.

One girl who was treated this year tried to grab a raccoon that was on her porch. The raccoon bit the girl and ran, Sauceda said. Because the animal was not available to be tested, doctors didn't know if it was rabid so they began post-exposure treatment.

"Once the weather gets warm and people are out and in stuff, then you get the dog bites increase and the wildlife" bites, Sauceda said.

July and August typically are peak months for rabies exposure.

Rabies may not produce symptoms for several months and up to a year, but once symptoms are evident, it's too late for treatment, said Cathy Webb, a county communicable disease specialist.

People who believe they may have been exposed to the disease are screened by doctors shortly after the exposure. Webb said if the doctor thinks someone has been exposed, that person will receive a series of shots over a month that will cost between $1,100 and $1,500.

The first day, the person will receive between four and eight shots of human rabies immunoglobin to counteract rabies in the short term. The shots are administered in muscles throughout the body, and sometimes in the wound itself, Webb said.

The patient also will receive the first of five vaccine shots immediately after exposure. The remaining shots will be given over the next few weeks, Webb said.

According to the NIH, there are about 18,000 rabies exposures reported in the United States every year.

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