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Health Department: Number of rabies cases is common

December 16, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Although there have been nine reported cases of rabies in animals in Washington County in 2004, the Washington County Health Department does not believe a rabies epidemic is on the way.

Humane Society of Washington County Executive Director Paul Miller said he is, however, concerned by the number of cases of rabies have been reported this year.

"Rabies is not a disease that can be taken lightly," Miller said. "Every seven or eight years, there seems to be a peak nationally in rabies cases."

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According to information released last week by the Humane Society, the most recent case of rabies in the county was reported Dec. 2 in a raccoon on Powell Road in Sharpsburg.

There were cases reported this year on Park Hall Road in Boonsboro, Taylors Landing Road in Sharpsburg, and in the Clear Spring, Downsville and Sandy Hook areas, according to the Humane Society.

Rabies is an acute, infectious viral disease that attacks the central nervous system. It can be transmitted through a bite from an infected animal or through contact with an infected animal's saliva. Rabies is characterized by choking, convulsions and the inability to swallow. Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal in humans.

The most common wildlife carriers of the virus are raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes, although dogs, cats and farm animals have been known to become infected, the Humane Society said.

Washington County Health Department spokesman Rod MacRae said the number of cases has not changed dramatically since the early 1980s when rabies first became entrenched in the area.

"When you get down to nine cases (in 2004) or seven cases (in 2003), it looks like a large fluctuation. But, in reality, it's not," MacRae said. "This is what we've come to expect. We've come to view it as something that is just here for good."

Miller said that domestic animals and some livestock, such as horses, should be vaccinated. Among the signs that an animal has become infected are suspicious interaction with humans, nocturnal animals turning up during daylight hours, aggressive behavior or foaming at the mouth, Miller said.

The Humane Society suggests that all bites or scratches from a wild animal be reported to its office by calling 301-733-2060; to the Health Department at 240-313-3400; or to a law enforcement agency.

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