Number of animals with rabies declines

10 tested positive in Howard last year, down from 16 in '01

April 09, 2003|By Jessica Valdez | Jessica Valdez,SUN STAFF

Ten animals in Howard County tested positive for rabies last year, according to a report from the Howard County Health Department.

The rabid animals included seven raccoons, two feral cats and a fox.

The statistics mark a decrease from 2001 when 16 animals tested positive for rabies, according to Bert Nixon, director of community service programs of the Howard County Health Department. The number of cases in the county typically fluctuates between 10 and 15 animals a year.

"It's endemic in most of the state, although some areas are worse off than others," Nixon said.

By far, the highest number of laboratory confirmed cases of rabies in Maryland have occurred in raccoons, according to a state Health Department Web site.

Animals with the next-highest incidence of rabies in Maryland are skunks, bats, foxes and cats, the state statistics show.

Since rabies moved into Maryland almost 20 years ago, it has decimated much of the state's raccoon population, Nixon said. No cases of rabies were recorded between the 1960s and 1982 in Howard, according to Nixon.

The local rabies infestation began after a rabid animal was transplanted north of Florida and spawned a spread of the disease up the East Coast, said Frank Skinner, environmental health director at the Howard County Health Department.

"We knew of this wave heading our way and heading in a northwest direction," said Skinner. "The first year [it reached Howard], we had well over 100 animals test positive."

Since then, the number of rabies cases has leveled off, but residents are still cautioned to beware of animals exhibiting unusual behavior. For those who see an animal they suspect has rabies, Nixon recommended three courses of action: avoidance of the animal, cleaning the wound in the case of a bite and reporting the incident to authorities.

Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system. Because no effective treatment exists for the disease once the symptoms develop, Nixon said, prevention is essential.

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