Health Department to hold rabies vaccination clinic Sunday

Health Department to hold rabies vaccination clinic Sunday
Exposure to a raccoon recently led to more than 12 people needing rabies shots. The Carroll County Health Department will be holding a rabies vaccination clinic from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 7, at the Carroll County Agriculture Center. (Courtesy photo)

It’s not an everyday occurrence, but it happens with some regularity in Carroll County — someone tries to nurse a racoon back to health and make it a pet.

“They are cute, especially when they are younger,” said Joe Mancuso, of the Carroll County Health Department.


There’s just one problem.

“Raccoons, in Maryland, are the number one vector for rabies,” Mancuso said. He’s the rabies program manager at the Health Department, and he does not suggest bringing wildlife into your home.

“This family took in a baby raccoon that wasn’t doing that well. They were hand feeding it, it was the cutest little creature and they allowed a bunch of kids around the neighborhood try to help nurse this thing back to health,” Mancuso said. “We ended up starting over a dozen people on shots because of that one raccoon.”

And it’s not just raccoons themselves. Domestic pets, especially cats, may come into contact with raccoons, or foxes, who have rabies, according to Mancuso, or even feral cats, who are even more likely to have contact with rabies carrying wildlife. And there are many people who wouldn’t think twice about adopting a sick cat they could nurse back to health, he said, who would never bring a raccoon in to their home.

“That is turning out to be one of the biggest issues with public health on the rabies front, especially in a rural county,” Mancuso said. “The feral cat population is exponentially getting bigger, there are just more and more of them out there.”

And so with weather warming, the health department is trying to get the message out about rabies. First and foremost, “Be careful about interacting with wildlife,” said Maggie Kunz, a health planner with the health department. “With it being spring there are a lot of animals out and people are out a lot more, so more chances for interaction and exposure to animals out there.”

And second, get your pets vaccinated so that they are safe if exposed to rabies, say, through a bite or scratch of an infected feral cat.

“It keeps Carroll County pets healthy even if they have an exposure. And in turn it substantially limits any chance of human exposure in Carroll County, since domestic cats are way more likely to be interacted,” Mancuso said. “It’s a great preventive measure and it works.”

The health department will be holding a rabies vaccination clinic from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 7, at the Carroll County Agriculture Center.

“The vaccines are administered by veterinarians and it’s only $7 per pet,” Kunz said. “That includes ferrets — cats, dogs and ferrets.”

No registration for the clinic is necessary.

Making sure your pet is up to date with rabies vaccinations also means an easier time for pet and owner both in the event the pet is exposed to a potentially rabid animal, according to Mancuso.

“If a pet has never had any type of vaccine prior to an exposure to rabies, they get a booster and then it’s a four-month strict quarantine,” he said. “If a pet has shots though, then all they have to do is get a booster and then it’s a regular 45-day observation period, not a strict quarantine. It’s a lot easier for the pet and their family.”

Rabies is a viral illness that is transmitted in the saliva of infected mammals, and is almost always fatal if the infected person or animal is not given post-exposure rabies shots in time, according to Kunz.


“Rabies is pretty much fatal and doesn’t have many signs or symptoms until it’s too late,” she said. “If it was just something that made you sick, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.”

At the same time, “It’s not an emergency, it’s an urgency when someone is exposed,” Mancuso said, noting that the incubation period for the virus is between three and eight weeks. “There is no need to rush to an emergency room right away.”

But anyone who may have been exposed — through the bite or scratch of an unknown animal, wild or domestic — should definitely communicate that. Adults, to the Health Department, and children, to their parents or guardians.

“When I was a little kid and I grew up in a rural county like Carroll County. I remember being scratched by a cat while out playing in the summer and not saying anything to anyone,” Mancuso said. “Luckily I lived in Ohio where rabies is not as big of an issue as Maryland.”

That could be a fatal mistake in Carroll County, but a completely preventable one, Mancuso said.

“As long as communication is open between us and people who have been potentially exposed, there is no way anyone will come down with rabies,” he said. “It’s completely treatable as long as it’s reported in a timely fashion.”

If a person or pet are bitten by a wild animal, they should wash the bite with soap and water and then call their doctor, veterinarian or the health department at 410-871-1884. If a wild or domestic animal is acting strangely, people should call animal control at 410-848-4810.