Res­i­dents urged to take pre­cau­tions against ra­bies

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By BRI­ANNA SHEA

bshea@ce­cil­whig.com

— As peo­ple and their pets be­gin spend­ing more time out­doors, they are urged by of­fi­cials to take pre­cau­tions to pro­tect them­selves from ex­po­sure to ra­bies.

In Mary­land, ra­bies is most of­ten seen in rac­coons, skunks, foxes, cats, bats and ground­hogs. Although, an­i­mals such as dogs, fer­rets and farm an­i­mals can also be in­fected, if they are not vac­ci­nated.

“Ra­bies is trans­mit­ted through ex­po­sure to salvia of a ra­bid mam­mal,” said An­gela Scram­lin, su­per­vi­sor of the Zoonotic Dis­ease Pro­gram with En­vi­ron­men­tal Health Ser­vices, a divi­sion of the county health de­part­ment.

She said it is not the bite it­self, but the salvia go­ing into the body. The dis­ease is not spread by pet­ting a ra­bid an­i­mal or com­ing into con­tact with blood, urine or fe­ces.

ELK­TON

“It’s not that ra­bies in­creases, it’s your risk of be­ing ex­posed to an­i­mals be­cause you’re out­side,” Scram­lin said. “In the win­ter, you’re not out­side, so you’re not run­ning into wild an­i­mals as of­ten as you are when you’re out in the sum­mer­time.”

Pre­cau­tions to take in­clude be­ing aware of your sur­round­ings, not ap­proach­ing or feed­ing wild or stray an­i­mals, keep­ing pets up to date with ra­bies vac­cines, keep­ing pets at­tended while out­side and re­mov­ing any out­door food that could at­tract an­i­mals, said Gregg Bortz, pub­lic af­fairs of­fi­cer for the county health de­part­ment. He also ad­vised teach­ing chil­dren to stay away from stray an­i­mals and an­i­mals they do not know.

There are two im­por­tant rea­sons to have pets vac­ci­nated: symp­toms take time to de­velop and once they do, ra­bies causes se­ri­ous health com­pli­ca­tions.

Scram­lin said pets are more likely to come across a ra­bid an­i­mal than a per­son. When bit­ten pets are not vac­ci­nated, they are re­quired to be quar­an­tined for six months af­ter ex­po­sure, be­cause signs take four months to de­velop, she ex­plained. If a vac­ci­nated pet is ex­posed to a ra­bies, the quar­an­tine pe­riod is only 45 days for treat­ment.

Ra­bies in an­i­mals causes paral­y­sis, seizures and be­hav­ioral changes. Throat and jaw mus­cles may be­come par­a­lyzed which causes drool­ing, as well. In hu­mans, the virus at­tacks the ner­vous sys­tem, and may lead to un­ex­pected ag­i­ta­tion or even coma. The virus also causes fever, headaches, un­usual tin­gling sen­sa­tion, con­fu­sion, throat mus­cles tight­en­ing, hy­dropho­bia and seizure. If left un­treated, ra­bies is fatal in hu­mans.

When a per­son is bit­ten or scratched, he or she should seek out im­me­di­ate medi- cal at­ten­tion to re­ceive pos­t­ex­po­sure shots that in­clude a dose of hu­man ra­bies im­mune glob­u­lin, which gives a per­son in­stant im­mu­nity against the dis­ease, and the ra­bies vac­cine given on the day of the ex­po­sure, said Kath­leen Martineau, the nurs­ing su­per­vi­sor with the health de­part­ment’s Of­fice of Com­mu­ni­ca­ble Dis­ease Con­trol. Af­ter­ward, the per­son goes back for three booster doses of the vac­cine.

“It’s very im­por­tant to have the proper fol­low- up and test­ing of the an­i­mal, if pos­si­ble,” Martineau said.

She had her own ex­pe­ri­ence with the se­ries of shots in the win­ter of 2010.

Martineau said she and two of her daugh­ters were ex­posed to a ra­bid kit­ten. She said they all re­ceived the ra­bies se­ries shots and were fine. Martineau tells peo­ple about her ex­pe­ri­ence with the shots to help pre­pare those who will re­ceive the shots.

Those who should re­ceive or con­sider re­ceiv­ing the pre-ex­po­sure ra­bies vac­cine in­clude those who work in ca­reer fields that are high risk for ex­po­sure, in­clud­ing vet­eri­nar­i­ans and an­i­mal han­dlers. Those who plan to travel in a for­eign coun­try where ca­nine ra­bies is more com­mon and ac­cess to care may be lim­ited, should also con­sider re­ceiv­ing pre-ex­po­sure vac­ci­na­tion. The pre-ex­po­sure vac­cine does not mean a per­son should not seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion af­ter a bite or ex­po­sure.

The health de­part­ment takes steps to en­sure the com­mu­nity is safe through the in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­ported an­i­mal bites.

As of June 28, the EHS have in­ves­ti­gated 147 an­i­mal bite re­ports, and av­er­age about 300 a year, Scram­lin said. Bites are in­ves­ti­gated to make sure that peo­ple who are ex­posed to a po­ten­tial ra­bid an­i­mal re­ceive proper treat- ment, she noted.

Two of 12 an­i­mals that were tested for ra­bies were pos­i­tive for the dis­ease. One of the an­i­mals in­cluded a fox found in North East and a skunk found in Colora. Although, no hu­mans were ex­posed to the two an­i­mals, a few pet dogs were. The dogs had cur­rent ra­bies vac­ci­na­tions, were given booster vac­ci­na­tions and quar­an­tined for 45 days, Scram­lin said. To­day, they are fine, she re­poted.

In 1976, Odette “Skip” Scrivanich was bit­ten by a ra­bid bat walk­ing on Red Point Beach along the North­east River. As Scrivanich knocked the bat off her shoul­der, the bat bit her and she was in­fected. Although Scrivanich was given a se­ries of 21 in­jec­tions to fight the dis­ease, she ul­ti­mately fell into a coma and even­tu­ally died. She

is the last res­i­dent in the county and state to have died of ra­bies.

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