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Tracking rabies

County official urges caution, not alarm

County official urges caution, not alarm

July 08, 2006|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Several raccoons have tested positive for rabies in the Downsville area recently, and the number of cases throughout Washington County appears to be higher than normal, county health department spokesman Rod MacRae said Friday.

The most recent attack was last week, when a rabid raccoon bit a 4-month-old puppy in the yard of a home near Williamsport, exposing the puppy and four people to the disease.

About a month ago, people were exposed to rabies after handling a rabid baby fox, MacRae said.

There have been seven confirmed cases of rabies in the county this year. There were 15 in 2005.

In 2004, there were eight confirmed cases, and in 2003, there were seven, according to information MacRae provided.

MacRae said he did not think the current rabies situation was cause for alarm among the public.

"I don't think they should be that worried because they got every opportunity to protect themselves," MacRae said.

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MacRae urged residents to take precautions when they see wild animals, and not to handle them.

Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that most often is transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The virus attacks the nervous system, affecting the brain and spinal cord of humans and animals. In Maryland, rabies most frequently is found in raccoons, cats, foxes, skunks, bats and groundhogs, according to the department.

Many of the rabies cases in the Downsville area have been near the river, but that doesn't mean there aren't other cases throughout the county, MacRae said.

MacRae said every several years, the number of rabies cases is higher than normal, and health officials don't know what causes that cycle.

The disease always is an issue in the county, regardless of the number of cases, MacRae said.

"It's always present," he said. "It's always an issue in the wildlife community, and probably will be indefinitely."

MacRae said the Health Department held a rabies clinic on June 28 at the Williamsport Sportsmen Club on Dam No. 4 Road to help prevent the spread of rabies.

Several animals were quarantined for exposure, he said. No other information was available about the animals.

MacRae said he hasn't heard of any animals having to be put down.

He urged people to keep their pets vaccinated.

Rabid animals typically attack domestic animals, which then can expose their owners to the disease, MacRae said. If humans are exposed, they need a series of shots for treatment.

They will be given a shot of immune globulin to build up antibodies, and a shot of rabies vaccine to stimulate the immune system, MacRae said. Follow-up shots will be required.

Williamsport-area resident Debbie Skomski, whose puppy was bitten by the rabid raccoon, told The Herald-Mail that she and three other people went to Washington County Hospital for the vaccine.

While the three others received treatment, Skomski couldn't because the hospital told them it ran out of the shots, she said.

She returned two days later for treatment after a shipment arrived.

MacRae said what likely happened was that there was no immune globulin available because of a nationwide shortage.

The Health Department stocks the treatment at the hospital.

Although there is a shortage, MacRae said the Health Department has access to the shots from other state health agencies to provide treatment locally.

Skomski said the puppy, Tess, was doing fine Friday and not showing signs of being ill.

She and the three others who were exposed received their second of five rounds of shots Friday.

"So far, we don't think it's anything to be concerned about," Skomski said.

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