A raccoon killed by two dogs on Monday in Westminster has tested positive for rabies and marks the fourth such animal to test positive for the lethal virus in the past weeks.
The dogs killed the raccoon on Poole Road, west of Md. 97 and near Stoner Avenue, but because both dogs were up to date on their rabies vaccinations, the pair will only require a booster shot and the dogs owners will not require treatment, according to a Carroll County Health Department news release. But health officials do want to make anyone in the vicinity who could have been exposed to the raccoon — or have had a pet exposed — aware of the risks and what to do if they had an interaction with rabid wildlife.
“The reason why we put out these press releases is to be transparent, let the public know and reiterate some of the educational things,” said Joe Mancuso, rabies coordinator with the health department. “Keep your pets up to date on their shots, report to the proper people if you do get an exposure.”
For that reason, the health department also put out news releases on Wednesday, after a dead raccoon found by a dog in Woodbine tested positive for rabies, and on Oct. 24, after a “lethargic” raccoon in Taneytown tested positive for rabies, as did an “aggressive” raccoon that bit a person in Sykesville.
The rabies virus is transmitted via the infected animal’s saliva when that animal bites, scratches or otherwise gets that saliva in another mammal’s eyes, nose, mouth or wounds — humans included. It’s always fatal to mammals once symptoms set in, Mancuso said, but has a long incubation period and is easily prevented with rabies vaccinations or post-exposure shots — exposure is an urgent matter, but not an emergency. A person bitten by an unknown animal, wild or domestic, should wash the wound and then call their doctor or the health department for themselves, and animal control about the animal.
But just what is up with the rapid pace of rabid raccoon sightings in Carroll? According to Mancuso, it’s actually pretty normal.
“There are a lot of animals like squirrels, raccoons and foxes that are foraging a lot more 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."
Rabies, meanwhile, is endemic in wildlife around the region, Mancuso said, and 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 around the same number of positives in Carroll this year as we did last year and the year before,” Mancuso said. As of Nov. 1, there have 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’s likely just a unlucky run that four have turned up in quick succession.
And while Mancuso said it’s a good rule of thumb not to interact with wildlife like raccoons, they do not represent a particularly urgent threat, especially when compared with feral cats.
“The percentage of people who have to be treated with post exposure shots when a cats claws them is usually a lot higher than with wildlife,” he said. “People are more likely to approach a cute-looking cat, and if it has rabies it’s just a big problem.”
And 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 two low-cost rabies vaccination clinics each year, the next to be held April 5.
“Enjoy wildlife from a distance and keep your pets vaccinated,” Mancuso said.
To keep yourself, your family, and your pets safe from rabies:
- Do not approach, handle, or feed wild or stray animals.
- Have your dogs, cats, and ferrets vaccinated against rabies and keep their vaccinations up to date. The next low-cost rabies vaccination clinic from the health department will be held 2-4 p.m. April 5, at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster.
- Do not 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 any animals that they do not 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. Then call your physician or veterinarian and contact the health department 410-876-1884.
For more information, visit phpa.health.maryland.gov/Pages/rabies.aspx.