SNOW HILL – The number of rabid animals found in Worcester County this year continues to increase, with an additional 11 rabid animals confirmed since late September.
“Recently, we passed the 50 mark. We have identified 50 rabid animals. Mostly raccoons, foxes, an opossum and a couple of cats along the way,” County Commissioner Judy Boggs reported at the Tuesday County Commissioners meeting.
Skunks, bats and groundhogs have also been found to carry the rabies virus in Worcester County.
“We’ve had 51 lab confirmed cases,” said Ed Potez, environmental health director with the Worcester County Health Department. His department has also seen 26 other “probably positive” rabies cases.
“It started up in January this past year,” said Potez.
Usually, rabies cases are more prevalent in the spring and fall, as wild animals move around into new territory or to find mates.
“This year it’s been steady all through summer. It has not stopped,” said Potez. “This is the second highest number of cases since the initial onslaught in 1993.”
Laboratory tests show that the strain is the usual type found in raccoons.
Two incidents near Berlin bring the danger home. In one incident in Berlin, a man taking his trash out was chased and bitten by a raccoon. In another incident, a rabid cat recently attacked three people on the outskirts of town.
“We just never had that before,” said Potez.
Boggs called the situation “a serious cautionary note.”
The rabid cat, known as a friendly stray, attacked two adults and a child. After investigating, the county found that two more children had also had contact with the rabid feline. The cat was part of a stray cat colony fed by neighborhood residents. The infected feline was euthanized and the people attacked underwent preventative rabies treatment. Traps have been set for the other feral cats.
The health department reported earlier this year that several rabies infected animals had been found in populated areas, including Ocean Pines, north Ocean City, South Point, and in the vicinity of White Marlin Mall.
Among domestic animals, cats are most likely to be unvaccinated and come into contact with wild animals carrying the deadly virus.
County residents can take steps to reduce the chances of encountering a rabid animal or a rabid animal infecting their pets. People should do not feed wild animals or pets outside. Children should be taught not to approach or touch strange pet animals or wild animals. Pets should be kept indoors or be leashed or onfined outside. Pople should also stay away from sick animals or animals acting in an unusual manner.
Animal owners who suspect their pet has had contact with a wild animal should contact the health department of law enforcement about testing the wild animal for the virus.
“People fear for their animals. There’s a lot of rumors out there, that if you call the health department something’s going to happen to your animal. That’s not necessarily true if the animal is vaccinated,” Potez said. We don’t trust anything. If we think there’s a chance we’re going to test it. We’re not going to take a chance with anybody’s life.”
Maryland law requires all dogs, ferrets and cats three months or older to be vaccinated against rabies. Those vaccinations must be renewed every one to three years, depending on the vaccine used and the pet’s age.