Rabies is a deadly virus that can infect any mammal by attacking its nervous system. Infection by the virus is almost 100 percent fatal once symptoms begin to occur, but it is easily preventable.

The time for symptoms to develop is generally 3-8 weeks. The most common rabid animals in this area of the country are raccoons, skunks, foxes, cats and bats. The main way these animals transmit the virus is through their saliva so it is spread primarily through bites, but it can also be transmitted if infected saliva or any tissue from a rabid animal's nervous system comes into contact with an open wound or with a mucous membrane such as the eyes, nose or mouth.


The easiest way to prevent the spread of the virus is to make sure your animal is current on its vaccination for rabies.

There a few important measures you need to take when you or someone you know is exposed to an animal bite.

First you need to make sure that you cleanse the wound completely as soon as possible with soap, water and disinfectant and then seek medical attention and be sure your health care provider reports the possible exposure to the Health Department. At the same time, if you were bitten by someone else's pet, it is very critical that you get the owner's address and phone number or, if no owner is around, take note of what the animal looks like. Now, if you were bitten by a wild animal and you can trap or confine it safely then do so, but take care not to damage the head since the normal way to check a wild animal for rabies is to have the lab analyze undamaged brain tissue.

If your pet or livestock is exposed to another animal, you need to follow these steps of precaution. Use gloves when examining or cleaning your pet after it fights with a wild animal (or even with another pet). Do not touch the wild animal. Call your veterinarian and the Health Department as soon as possible.

If the animal is dead or it can be safely captured, call the Humane Society so we can send it in for rabies testing at the state lab. In the event that the animal tests positive, your dog would need to be quarantined for 45 days if it is current on its vaccination or strictly isolated for 180 days if it is not current on its vaccination.

If you find a bat in your home, you need to know that bats can definitely carry rabies. What many people don't realize is that bat bites can be very small and you may not even be able to tell that you were bitten. In fact, one of the last victims to die from rabies was a woman who didn't even realize she had been bitten by a bat. If you think the bat may have bitten you or you are not 100 percent certain that it did not bite you, then try to safely capture it or call Animal Control at the Humane Society.

You may be wondering what the Health Department does to prevent and control this deadly virus.

We are the primary agency responsible for enforcing the state regulations for rabies. One of the most common ways we enforce these regulations is through a precautionary 10-day quarantine on any domestic dog, cat, ferret or livestock that bit or possibly exposed someone to rabies. The quarantine is typically managed at the pet owner's residence. We can utilize the state labs to test animals for rabies promptly. Also, we have access to quality medical advice from the Nursing Bureau and can give rabies post-exposure shots if necessary. Twice a year we provide an efficient and economical — only $7 per pet! —rabies vaccination clinic for pets (dogs, cats and ferrets).

The next rabies clinic is coming up on April 22 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Carroll County Agriculture Center.

The quarantine is the most common precaution used to control the possible spread of rabies. A quarantine is a state-required precaution that we use in bite or scratch cases in order to determine whether a pet has rabies. Basically, if a pet survives a 10-day quarantine period, we can conclude that it could not have transmitted rabies at the time of the exposure.

All it involves is the owner confining their pet in their home or in another escape-proof enclosure for 10 days from the time of the bite and, if the pet has to go outside, it must be on a leash under the control of an adult. During the quarantine period it is important that the pet not be in contact with other people or animals. At the end of the quarantine, we just need to see that the animal is healthy. You can also have your veterinarian verify your pet's health.

You may want to further explore rabies. The Carroll County Health Department website is a good source of information on rabies. The Health Department website also has links to other resources such as the State Health Department and CDC's websites. Don't hesitate to call with any questions or concerns you may have! www.carrollcountyhealthdepartment.dhmh.state.md.us or call 410-876-4882.

Joe Mancuso is the rabies coordinator, LEHS, for the Carroll County Health Department.