Harford leads the state in the diversity of animals that have been found to have rabies, the county's health officer said last week, but the number of rabies cases in Harford has declined from a 1986 peak.

"We can expect it could be with us for another year or so, but it's a far cry from the epidemic of 1986," Thomas M. Thomas, the county's health officer, told the County Council Tuesday in his semi-annual public health report.

In 1986, when rabies was declared epidemic in Harford, there were 183 reported cases. As of Oct. 1, 1990, there were 33 cases of rabies reported in the county.

The diversity of animals affected in Harford in the last six years rivals that of any other area of the state, Thomas said.

"Among the animals affected by rabies were 276 raccoons, 10 foxes, six cats, five skunks, three ground hogs, two cows, two bats, one goat, one dog, one horse," Thomas said.

"We do lead the state in variety. We're the only county in the state to have had rabies in a horse. It was bitten by a dog."

The epidemic has traveled about 25 miles a year across the state from western Maryland, where it began in 1981, Thomas said. The disease has now moved through Cecil County and over to the Eastern Shore.

Harford was first affected in 1985. The county went from no reported cases in 1984 to 28 cases in 1985, including 15 cases in a two-month period that year.

One of the best ways to prevent rabies exposure to humans is to have dogs and cats vaccinated, Grigor said, because those animals have close contact with humans.

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