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Boy given rabies shot after dog bites arm

April 10, 2004|By GREGORY T. SIMMONS

A 6-year-old Hagerstown boy received the first of a five-shot series of rabies immunizations Friday, 11 days after he was bitten on the arm by a basset hound while he was playing at a friend's house.

Even though it was only one shot, and rabies shots are now no more severe than a tetanus shot, the boy likely could have avoided it had the dog been vaccinated and if the processes had worked better, the boy's doctor said Friday.

"Why get something you don't need?" Dr. Allen Ditto said. "In a perfect world, that dog should be confiscated. .... But we're gettting the runaround."

Ditto recommended Friday that the boy begin the treatment. He said American Pediatric Association standards recommend that anyone who could have been exposed to rabies be vaccinated within 10 days of exposure.

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Rabies is an infectious viral disease. Once clinical symptoms appear the disease is nearly always fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

Friday was the 11th day after the exposure. The boy's grandmother took him Friday afternoon to get the first of the shots. Hours later, the dog's owner verified it was not infected with rabies, said Laurie Bucher, the director of the Washington County Health Department's environmental health division.

Bucher and Ditto said the boy would not need the remaining shots since the dog was not rabid. Bucher said the dog, "Buster," was vaccinated Friday. She did not release the owner's name.

The boy's grandmother said her grandson was playing at a friend's house when the dog from a neighboring home bit him on the arm.

Ditto said although the bite was minor, it was a possible rabies threat. Had it been determined that the dog was immunized, there would have been no problem.

The problem, Ditto said, is "it's a theoretical exposure, but you gotta be on it" because there's a small chance of rabies.

Because the dog had not been immunized, health officials had to decide what to do. There are two ways to determine if a dog has rabies.

Officials can destroy the animal and test the brain matter in an autopsy, or - if officials believe the animal likely is healthy - the dog can be kept out of contact with other animals and observed for 10 days, Bucher said.

Officials said that if an animal believed to have rabies does not show symptoms within 10 days, it almost certainly does not have the disease. The health department's policy is to have a veterinarian verify that by examining the animal.

Bucher said inspectors chose to quarantine the dog. But because of a problem with the landlord, a department inspector worked a deal with the owner to allow the dog to go to a home in Virginia.

Becky Hogamier, acting county health officer on Friday, said health department workers "operated within the guidelines of the (state) law."

Bucher said the boy's case might have been more efficient - and the boy could have avoided the shot - if more rules were in place.

"I think making it a requirement on the 10th day to produce the dog" would help, Bucher said.

Situations like Friday's are common, Bucher said.

"A lot of my inspectors' time is chasing down the dogs ... a lot of phone calling, a lot of leg work," she said.

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