Owners urged to get pets vaccinated against rabies

April 03, 1994|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Sun Staff Writer

In the wake of an increase of rabies cases in wild animals, the Harford County Health Department is urging residents to have their pets vaccinated and to avoid pets that have been in fights with wild animals for at least two hours.

Because rabies is transmitted through saliva, it is important not to touch a dog, for example, that has fought with a raccoon. The raccoon's saliva may be on the dog's coat, Dr. Beverly Stump, deputy health officer for Harford County said Monday.

Skunks, foxes and cats also may be infected with rabies, Dr. Stump said.

Once symptoms of rabies are confirmed in an animal, death is inevitable, said Leonard Walinski, chief of rabies control for Harford County.

If untreated, rabies is fatal to people, too, he said.

Symptoms of rabies in humans are headache, pain extending down the arm and a high fever.

Rabies symptoms are more difficult to spot in animals, said Dr. Stump.

"If an animal is foaming at the mouth, the disease is so advanced that it can't swallow its own saliva and it will be near death," she said.

The earliest sign of rabies in an animal is a change in its normal behavior, she said.

A bat flying in sunlight or a raccoon showing aggression rather than running away are the kinds of abnormal behaviors that may indicate infection, Dr. Stump said.

In 1986, when 185 incidents of rabies were reported, Harford led the nation in rabies cases, Dr. Stump said.

That number dwindled to 18 in 1993, but eight cases have been reported in the past six weeks, Mr. Walinski said. The number indicates a sudden increase, but not to a rate comparable to the epidemic ones of 1986 or those now on the Eastern Shore.

Worcester County has had 17 rabies cases this year and had 137 last year, he said.

Nearly all of those cases involved raccoons, he said.

Rats, mice and squirrels do not normally contract rabies, Mr. Walinski said.

"They are more skittish and do not come in contact with other infected wild animals very often," he said.

The best way to help control the spread of rabies is to have pets vaccinated, said Dr. Stump.

"If a pet does come in contact with an animal suspected of having rabies, it is important to have the pets receive a booster," she said.

The county Health Department will hold rabies vaccination clinics for dogs and cats from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. April 24 at these locations.

* Harford County Health Department, 119 Hays St., Bel Air.

* Susquehanna Hose Company, Station No. 4, Revolution Street and Bloomsbury Avenue, Havre de Grace.

* Delta-Cardiff Volunteer Fire Company, Route 165, Whiteford.

The rabies vaccination clinics will also be held May 1 at these sites:

* Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company, Route 7 and Mountain Road, Joppa.

* Darlington Volunteer Fire Company, Darlington.

* County Parks and Recreation Building, Old Aberdeen Elementary School, Howard and Franklin streets, Aberdeen.

* Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company, 3825 Federal Hill Court.

The cost is $5 per animal.

To expedite the dogs and cats through the clinics, pet owners are urged to keep dogs on a leash and cats in a carrying case and to have exact change.

Owners also should fill out a facsimile of the rabies vaccination certificate found on the back of rabies fliers being distributed through schools, stores and the county Health Department branch offices.

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