By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Sept. 6, 2018) Confirmed cases of rabies are up this year, a Worcester County Health Department official said on Tuesday, and pet owners are being encouraged to be vigilant in ensuring rabies vaccinations are up to date.
The health department confirmed four cases of rabies last month: a raccoon in Berlin Aug. 2, a raccoon in Snow Hill Aug. 25, a fox in Berlin Aug. 28 and a cat in Girdletree Aug. 28.
A health department press release last week reported an eight-week-old female tabby kitten tested positive near Girdletree. The pet owners were not known.
“Health department officials are concerned that there may have been other contacts to this kitten and warn that any person, pet or other animal that may have had contact with this kitten could be at risk for rabies exposure,” officials said in the release.
“If you believe that you or a member of your family had any contact with, or exposure to, the kitten, call the Worcester County Health Department immediately at 410-641-9559 or consult with your medical provider. If you call after hours or on the weekend, call Worcester County Emergency Services at 410-632-1311 to reach health department on-call staff.
“If bitten or scratched by an animal, always seek immediate medical care. Post-exposure treatment is necessary to prevent rabies. If not treated, rabies is fatal.”
Worcester County Health Department Public Information Officer Travis Brown on Tuesday said any animal suspected of having rabies must be euthanized to conduct testing.
“We are unsure at this time of how the kitten contracted rabies and are currently investigating any potential contact the animal may have had with individuals or pets in the Girdletree area,” Brown said.
For the year to date, the 18 instances of confirmed rabid animals in Worcester are the highest since 2014. They include 14 raccoons, one skunk, one opossum, one fox and one cat, according to health department statistics.
By comparison, 10 animals tested positive during all of last year.
This year six animals tested positive in Snow Hill, along with five in Pocomoke, three in Berlin, two in Stockton, and one each in Bishopville and Girdletree.
There were 23 confirmed cases in 2014 and 46 in 2013. The highest total during the last decade was 2009, when 52 were confirmed, including 45 raccoons, five foxes, one opossum and one cat. Raccoons, in each year during the last decade, were by far the leading animals in terms of confirmed cases.
“The number of cases we receive varies year to year. There is no way for us to predict how many cases we will receive in any given year,” Brown said. “In 2018 we are seeing an upswing in the number of cases.”
Brown offered several warning signs and tips for anyone who comes into contact with an animal suspected of having rabies:
- If you see a wild animal, such as a raccoon, skunk, fox, groundhog, opossum, or a feral cat behaving in a threatening or obviously sick manner or should your pet be involved in an altercation with one of those animals – report immediately to your local police department or sheriff’s office.
- Prevent further contact by keeping pets and people away. If a pet or person has already had contact, it is important that the rabies suspect animal be obtained (safely) for rabies testing.
- If a pet has had contact, do not touch the pet barehanded. Make sure the health department is contacted for further instructions, if contact has occurred. Your pet’s veterinarian may also be contacted for further advice.
Brown said upcoming area rabies vaccination clinics are scheduled Oct. 17 at the Showell Fire Hall and Oct. 18 at the Stockton Fire Hall.
For updated information, call Animal Control at 410-632-1340 or the health department at 410-641-9559.
For more information on rabies in Worcester County, visit worcesterhealth.org.