Health officials urging vaccinations for rabies Infected pet bites Westminster girl

December 20, 1992|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Carroll health officials are warning residents to vaccinate their pets against rabies after a Westminster teen was bitten by a rabid dog last week.

"If you protect them [the pets], you're protecting yourself," said Charles L. Zeleski, assistant director of the county's Environmental Health Department.

The girl, bitten in the hand by a mixed terrier stray the family took in last summer as a puppy, is undergoing treatment for rabies, he said.

Treatment is 100 percent effective if started before symptoms appear, Mr. Zeleski said. The girl, whose name is not being released, did not have any symptoms when her treatment began, he said.

Rabies, an infectious viral disease, affects a person's nervous system. If symptoms occur, the illness is almost always fatal, he said.

Symptoms include choking, convulsions and the inability to swallow.

Three members of the girl's family and several friends, who had also been in contact with the dog but were not bitten, are receiving treatments as a precaution, he said.

Treatment consists of a series of six shots, most of which build up a person's antibodies against the disease, Mr. Zeleski said.

The dog was put to death after it bit the girl, and a sample of its brain tissue was examined at the Maryland State Laboratory in Baltimore for rabies, he said.

The dog was the 16th animal to test positive for rabies in Carroll this year, Mr. Zeleski said. Last year, 18 animals tested positive.

Rabies was introduced to Carroll in 1984 through raccoons, he said. That year, 148 animals tested positive. It was a big jump from 1983, when five animals tested positive.

By 1985, the number of infected animals was down to 78, and in 1986, it decreased to 17, he said. The highest it has been since is 25 cases in 1988.

The county's raccoon population has decreased since the mid-1980s because many of the animals have died of rabies, Mr. Zeleski said.

Pets must be vaccinated, he said.

"They're the major buffer between the carrier of the disease, which is raccoons, and humans," he said.

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