Residents urged to take precautions against rabies
— 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.
“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.