Raccoon rabies vaccine to be tested on peninsula Bait to be used in effort to curb spread of disease

July 23, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Health Department officials are counting on a fishy-smelling bait laced with rabies vaccine to help slow the spread of the disease among raccoons.

The vaccine disguised in a reeking raccoon delicacy will be scattered through wooded and bushy areas on the Annapolis peninsula in October in a test that, if successful in reducing rabies cases -- and the resultant threat to people -- could be expanded to other parts of the county.

Most cases

Last year, Anne Arundel County had the most animal rabies cases of any county in Maryland, with 97 animals, mostly raccoons, found to be infected. Through June, 27 animals had tested positive this year, according to animal control Administrator Tahira Williams.

Two reports this month of foxes biting people in Linthicum highlight the possibility that other animals may be infected with the potentially fatal virus.

A fox bit a man in his yard the night of July 11, and a woman at the North Linthicum light rail station was bitten by a fox the next night, prompting Health Department and animal control officials to issue an alert for the area.

Both bite victims were treated with a series of anti-rabies injections as a precaution because animal control workers could not find or trap the animals that bit them for testing.

The foxes may have been protecting their young or reacting to some other threat, according to Dr. Joseph Horman, a veterinarian and consultant to the Health Department. But aggressive behavior in animals, such as attacking people, can be a symptom of rabies infection known as the "furious" stage, he said.

"It's unusual, I think, for foxes to show that kind of behavior," he said.

Few residents seem concerned.

'It's kind of neat'

Bill Mueller, who lives near the light rail station, said he has seen a fox in his yard recently but isn't worried.

"I'm not going up to it, number one, and I think if it approached me, I would be able to scare it off," he said. "My neighbors and I think it's kind of neat that there is a family of foxes running around."

Michelle McConnell, waiting for a train from North Linthicum to Linthicum yesterday, read about the alert in the newspaper.

"It concerned me, but I hadn't seen any foxes," she said. "I came yesterday up the steps and heard something rustling in the bushes, and I wondered if it was a fox."

The vaccine the Health Department is using, Raboral V-RG, has been approved by the U.S. Agriculture Department only for vaccinating raccoons, but in Europe it is used to prevent rabies in foxes and other wild animals as well, according to Horman.

Raccoons that eat the small, brown bricks of fish meal and oil will bite into the embedded vaccine and be vaccinated by mouth, he said. The pieces, which will be dropped by helicopter or placed by hand, are not harmful to people, dogs or cats.

The 8,000 to 9,000 bricks will cost $12,000 to $13,680, plus the cost of distribution, Horman said.

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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