While the numbers are nothing like those in the mid-1980s, when reported rabies cases in Harford topped the entire United States, it never hurts to be cautious, officials say, and there's an easy way to prevent the dreaded disease from spreading to household pets and other domestic animals: Get them vaccinated.
Harford County's Health Department held its first round of pet rabies vaccination clinics Sunday, and another round is coming up this Sunday.
Last Sunday's clinics at the Equestrian Center in Bel Air, Susquehanna Hose Company House 4 in Havre de Grace, the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company and Whiteford Volunteer Fire Company were all well-attended, health department officials said.
There were a total of 1,133 animals vaccinated last Sunday, according to the health department, including Havre de Grace, 295; Whiteford, 350; Bel Air, 162; and Abingdon, 326.
This Sunday's clinics for dogs, cats and ferrets that are 3 months old or older will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. at the following locations:
• Aberdeen Fire Department, Rogers and Franklin streets in Aberdeen;
• Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company, 3825 Federal Hill Road in Jarrettsville;
• Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company, Route 7 and Old Mountain Road in Joppa; and
• Darlington Volunteer Fire Company, 1209 Castleton Road near the intersection of Routes 1 and 623, in Darlington.
Even though more than 7,000 pets have been vaccinated over the past three years, health department spokesperson Bill Wiseman said last Sunday's clinics were more successful than any in recent years.
"It was a magnificent success," he said.
The $5 cost for a rabies shot in Harford is the lowest of any Maryland jurisdiction, Wiseman said.
"I think it grows in popularity each year," he added.
County Health Officer Susan Kelly told members of the Harford County Council Tuesday the rabies clinic Sunday saw its highest numbers of pets vaccinated in a decade.
Pet owners wishing to take advantage of this Sunday's clinics and to save time are encouraged to download vaccination forms, available online at the health department's website, http://www.harfordcountyhealth.com.
Forms must be completed using a ballpoint pen and brought along with the pet to the clinic. For pets to be vaccinated at the clinic sites, dogs must be on a leash while cats and ferrets should be secured in cages. No animals other than dogs, cats and ferrets will be vaccinated
Most Maryland counties experience cyclical trends in the numbers of rabies positive animals. In Harford County, after a low of 11 positive animals in 2010, the number increased to 17 positive animals in 2011, according to the health department. About 75 percent of these positive animals were raccoons, which typically provide the highest risk and most common exposure to domesticated animals.
"We currently are experiencing an upward trend in the number of rabies positive cases. The numbers of rabies positive animals is likely to increase this year," Kelly said about the Harford County trend in a recent news release. "Pet owners must remain vigilant in vaccinating all of their pets, since this is our best defense against rabies."
Rabies vaccinations for dogs, cats and ferrets are required by Maryland law. Certificates given at the clinics provide necessary proof of vaccination for dog licensing in Harford County.
For more information about the clinics, call the health department, 410-877-2300, or visit the Harford County Health Department website.