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Pet Wise: With rabies a deadly threat, keep distance from wildlife and keep vets vaccinated

On the afternoon of Oct. 1, a Rockville woman and her dog were attacked by a coyote that later tested positive for rabies. This and other rabies incidents serve as a wakeup call about the ongoing danger of rabies in and around Carroll County.

The woman was one of three people attacked by the coyote during that afternoon in Montgomery County. The Rockville Police Department responded and located the coyote near an underground storm drain. The coyote charged the police officer and he shot and killed it. The coyote was taken to the Maryland Department of Health, where it tested positive for rabies.

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Recently, a Times article detailed a rabies case in Westminster that involved a rabid raccoon that was killed by two dogs. This incident was followed by a dog’s discovery of another dead raccoon that was found in Woodbine. On Oct. 24, a “lethargic” raccoon in Taneytown tested positive for rabies as did an “aggressive raccoon” that bit a person in Sykesville.

What is rabies and how does it spread?

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Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system in warm-blooded animals that can be spread between humans and animals The rabies virus lives in the saliva of infected animals and can be transmitted through a bite, a scratch or by a lick that goes into an open wound, the eye or mouth, according to the Carroll County Health Department.

Rabies causes paralysis and changes in behavior and is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. Rabies can cause wild animals to act friendly to humans and pets can act aggressive. Other symptoms include paralysis of the throat and jaw causing drooling. Seizures are common according to the Maryland Department of Health’s Rabies Fact Sheet.

In humans, the virus causes fever, headaches, unusual tingling sensation, confusion, tightening of the throat muscles and hydrophobia (fear of water). The disease rapidly progresses to paralysis coma and death without treatment. In Maryland, foxes, raccoons, skunks, cats and bats are the most common species to spread rabies, although all warm-blooded animals can carry the disease including sheep, cattle, goats, ferrets and groundhogs.

The State of Maryland requires that dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated against rabies by four months of age and that they receive booster shots according to the vaccine label instructions. The first rabies vaccine is generally recognized as a 1-year vaccine and additional vaccines vary between one and yearyears. Adult cats and ferrets must receive a rabies shot every year. Vaccines are also available for horses, cattle, and sheep.

According to Joe Mancuso, the rabies coordinator for the Carroll County Health Department, rabies is endemic (common) in the wildlife population in our area. This can cause a problem when our pets come into contact with wild animals. Last year, a local veterinarian experienced this first hand when a rabid raccoon came into her house through the cat door in her basement. The raccoon bit her dog and attacked her cat. The veterinarian’s husband and son were both bitten when trying to get the raccoon out of their house. Fortunately, the pets were up to date with their rabies vaccines and both her husband and son also received vaccinations.

Common across the U.S., rabies is spread to humans through the bites or scratches of an infected animal: most commonly, bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Early symptoms include fever, headache, and itching. If the infection is not treated early on, it can progress into delirium, hallucinations, and insomnia, by which time theodds of surviving the disease are extremely slim.
Common across the U.S., rabies is spread to humans through the bites or scratches of an infected animal: most commonly, bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Early symptoms include fever, headache, and itching. If the infection is not treated early on, it can progress into delirium, hallucinations, and insomnia, by which time theodds of surviving the disease are extremely slim. (StoneMonkeyswk // Shutterstock)

The recent rabid raccoon sightings are actually pretty normal according to Mancuso.

“There are a lot of animals like squirrels, raccoons and foxes that are foraging right now because it’s starting to get a little colder. That’s why you are starting to see more interactions with outdoor pets,” he said. “It’s just standard behavior for raccoons.” He adds that it is not uncommon at all to find a rabid raccoon around Carroll.

In 2018, he said the health department identified 17 rabies-positive animals in the county, and eight of them were raccoons.

“Overall we are pretty much right on track to have the same number of positives in Carroll this year (2019) as we did last year and the year before.” In November 2019, there had been 14 rabies-positive animals identified in Carroll, with 11 of them being raccoons. Given that the recent spate has involved raccoons in different corners of the county, he said, it was likely just an unlucky run that four turned up in quick succession.

Remember that it is not just feral cats, but pets who go outdoors and might interact with a raccoon and then bring the virus into the home, according to Mancuso. It’s one reason why the health department holds low-cost rabies vaccination clinics each year. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic this year’s rabies clinics could not be held. Hopefully the clinics will return in 2021.

“Enjoy wildlife from a distance and keep your pets vaccinated,” Mancuso said.

Karen Baker, the Executive Director of the Humane Society of Carroll County wanted to remind pet owners to contact their animal hospital to find out when their pets will be due for their rabies shots.

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Tips from health department

To keep yourself, your family, and your pets safe from rabies:

· Do not approach, handle, or feed wild or stray animals.

· Keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date.

· Don’t leave pets outside unattended or allow them to roam free.

· Cover garbage cans tightly and do not leave pet food outside.

· Teach children to stay away from wild animals and animals they don’t know.

· Prevent bats from entering your home by using window screens and chimney caps. Bats found in the home should be safely collected, if possible, and tested for rabies.

· If a wild or stray animal is sick, injured, or acting strangely and is in your living space, call animal control 410-848-4810.

· If you or your pet have been bitten or scratched by a wild or stray animal, wash the area with soap and water for several minutes.

· Keep your pet away from other people and pets. Call all your physician or veterinarian and contact the health department: 410-876-1884.

· An injured pet will likely need a rabies booster and wound care from the vet.

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