Bite victim finds danger at her door Mount Airy woman warns of rabies SOUTHWEST -- Mount Airy * Woodbine * Taylorsville * Winfield

February 12, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

Deborah Hopple stepped out of her Mount Airy home to get the family dog and came face to face with an apparently rabid raccoon.

"I went to let the dog in, and this raccoon came charging at my feet," Mrs. Hopple said as she recalled the incident in December. "I couldn't get him away. He bit me on both feet."

Mrs. Hopple managed to trap the raccoon in the garage, where the animal remained until her husband, Glenn, came home and shot it. The couple took the raccoon to the Carroll County Humane Society.

Mrs. Hopple was directed to see her doctor to begin anti-rabies ** shots immediately.

"I had to go through all the shots," said Mrs. Hopple, who is a pharmacy technician and manager at King's Pharmacy in Woodbine. "The first time was the worst. I went twice a week for over a month."

Mrs. Hopple, the mother of 15- and 11-year-old girls, tells her story to let the public know that rabid animals "are really out there."

"People don't think about rabies," she said. "They think that when an animal comes up to them, it's being friendly. They don't think that that animal could be rabid."

There were 16 cases of confirmed rabies -- in which the animal was captured and tested -- in Carroll in 1992, said Larry Leitch, the county's deputy health officer. Nine of those cases involved raccoons, he said.

Bob Lichtfuss, a county environmental health aide, said the number of rabies cases fluctuates from year to year. The number of confirmed rabies cases in Carroll peaked in 1984, when the county recorded 148 cases, 134 of which were raccoons, he said.

"It will always be here in background levels," Mr. Lichtfuss said. "We average about 20 cases a year but it fluctuates."

Vaccines were dispensed to 35 people in the county in 1992, said Mary Bandorick, a community health nurse. The vaccines, she said, were dispensed to people who were either bitten by or had contact with an animal believed to be rabid. In some cases, the animal was not found, she said.

"Some bites are from stray animals," Ms. Bandorick said. "We treat them as rabid. Most bites are from animals that are owned by others. The animals can be quarantined and observed so someone doesn't have to undergo shots."

Mrs. Hopple got the shots. She said she never found out whether the raccoon was rabid, but she believes it was.

"As soon as anybody or anything moved, he came after them," she said. "When he came after me, I floored it. It stayed out there and scratched at the door. It was like a horror movie. I know that raccoon was rabid."

Mrs. Hopple was wearing high heels and was on her way to work when the raccoon appeared. The raccoon bit her exposed feet.

She believes the raccoon was after the dog.

In addition to leaving for work, Mrs. Hopple was trying to get her daughters off to school. Her 15-year-old was outside when the incident occurred, and the raccoon wouldn't let her near the family's Ford Bronco.

The 11-year-old was inside the house, "scared to death," waiting to catch the bus. Neither daughter was bitten, she said.

Mrs. Hopple said she had an initial reaction to the rabies vaccine that made her break out in a rash and feel ill. She still has scars on her feet.

County officials said there was little Mrs. Hopple could have done to prevent the encounter with the raccoon. She hadn't noticed the animal before she stepped outside.

"People should use common sense," Mr. Leitch said. "If an animal is acting strangely -- either very passively or very aggressively --stay away from it. It's uncommon to to see a raccoon out in the daytime.

"As the disease develops, animals take on very unusual behavioral characteristics," he said. "When a child sees a raccoon on the porch, there's a very strong temptation to run out and pet it. It's something to watch out for."

County officials recommend keeping family pets vaccinated. They also urge those who handle or come in contact with animals, such as hunters, veterinarians, police and animal control people, to get pre-exposure vaccines.

"It's much less costly than post-exposure vaccines and protects against exposure," Ms. Bandorick said. "A lot of people don't know about it."

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