Reported cases of rabies are going down in Maryland, but Carroll ranks third in the number of confirmed cases, with 22 reported in 1995 -- matching the total for last year when the county ranked 10th in reported cases.
Despite Carroll's increase in the rankings, health officials say that the numbers aren't particularly significant. The changes reflect geographical fluctuations in Maryland's raccoon population.
"We have not discerned anything unusual in the rabies cases this year," said Suzanne P. Albert, a nurse consultant at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"We have an animal that moves all over the state," Ms. Albert said said. "They travel in search of food and a natural habitat."
Leading the state in animal rabies cases this year is Frederick County, with 45 confirmed cases. Montgomery County is next, with 24 cases.
A comparison with last year's rabies rankings shows that rabies cases aren't necessarily concentrated in the same areas from year to year. Last year, Somerset and Frederick counties tied for first with 58 cases. Second was Baltimore County with 41 cases, and Worcester County was third with 38 confirmed cases.
Statewide, there have been 247 confirmed cases of rabies through the end of July. For the past four years, more than 300 cases of rabies have been reported in the first seven months of each year, Ms. Albert said.
State health officials say the best way to avoid exposure to rabies is to stay away from wild animals.
"People should never adopt wild animals as pets," Ms. Albert said.
Although any mammal can contract rabies, state health officials said that raccoons account for most of Maryland's animal rabies cases.
"Rabies can be transferred through the mucus membrane, so if someone got raccoon saliva on their hand then rubbed their eye or nose, that could be an exposure," said Larry Leitch, the county's deputy health officer.
The state's outbreak of rabies in raccoons began in 1981 in Allegany County. The outbreak followed a decade of almost no cases of rabies in four-footed animals statewide, Ms. Albert said.
The last human case of rabies in Maryland was in 1976 and involved a bite from a rabid bat, she said.
Ms. Albert said the national Centers For Disease Control and Prevention ranks Maryland fifth in the number of animal rabies cases in the South Atlantic region. The region covers eight states and Washington, D.C. West Virginia ranks first in rabies cases in the region.