Ocean City Today

Rabies cases trending up

By Brian Gilliland | Apr 12, 2018
Photo by: Worcester County Health Department Confirmed rabies cases in Worcester County from 2012-2017

(April 13, 2018) With five confirmed cases of rabid animals in the southern end of the county, Worcester County’s 2018 totals could rival 2014’s, which had the greatest number of incidence in the last four years.

Worcester has seldom seen rates as high as those found in 2009 and 2013, when 52 and 46 diseased animals were confirmed, with the usual rates below 20.

“Left untreated, rabies is almost always fatal. Only a few people have survived, but with severe neurologic deficits,” Angela Richardson, rabies program manager for the Worcester County Health Department said.

Once symptoms appear, there is no treatment, Richardson said.

Death could take weeks or years, depending on where the bite or scratch from an infected animal is on the victim and how much virus was transmitted.

No one in the county has died of the disease, Richardson said.

“The virus travels via the nervous system,” she said. “If you’re bitten in the leg it could take a while to reach the brain. That’s why we call it an urgency, not an emergency.”

If one has had contact with an animal that is suspected to have rabies, Richardson suggested visiting a doctor or the emergency room. However, trying to keep an eye on the animal is also important, as the only way to definitively test for the disease requires the animal’s body.

Locating and confining a diseased animal is important, since it could potentially infect other pets or people while you are seeking treatment.

Treatment is a series of shots based upon the severity of the injury as well as the weight of the victim. Those being treated for rabies exposure are given the vaccine as well as rabies immunoglobulin over a course of days and weeks.

The Worcester County Health Department recommends upon observing a raccoon, skunk, fox, groundhog, opossum or a feral cat behaving in a threatening or obviously sick manner, or should a pet be involved in an altercation with one of those animals – report the incident immediately to the local police department or Sheriff’s Office. If a pet has had contact, do not touch the pet barehanded.

This year so far, five animals have been confirmed carriers of rabies. Four were raccoons, and one was a skunk. Another raccoon was suspected of carrying the disease, but it has not been confirmed. Five of the six total reports came from the Snow Hill area, with the remaining one in Pocomoke City.

Last year, there were 10 confirmed cases, and nine suspected animals. The majority of listings are raccoons, with only one fox, one cat and one opossum also testing or being suspected of having rabies.

The reports also reached up into Berlin last year, with more than 25 percent of cases reported there.

In 2016 there were 14 confirmed and 17 suspected cases, which reached into West Ocean City, Bishopville and Ocean Pines.

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