SNOW HILL – With the increase in rabies cases in Maryland over the last few years, Health Department officials are urging pet owners to keep vaccinations up to date.
“We want people to do appropriate things to lessen risk,” said Worcester County Health Department Rabies Coordinator Janet Tull.
In an effort to encourage residents to get pets vaccinated, the Health Department, in conjunction with Animal Control, will be offering Rabies Clinics several times over the course of the year.
“In years past, historically we had four (clinics) per year,” Tull said.
However, due to a rise in cases that began in 2008, more clinics have been held each year with 2010 seeing seven clinics. This year, the plan is to hopefully offer a clinic at the county’s Animal Control Shelter once a month, with the exception of the regular rabies clinics that are held in May and October at a location other than the shelter.
Tull confirmed that the risk for rabies is “always present,” despite the season. The Health Department and Animal Control have been offering rabies clinics for several years. According to Tull, the clinics have probably been around since the rabies boom in the 1980’s. Since then, numbers have steadied, with the average number of lab confirmed cases in Worcester County generally between 10 and 15 all the way up until 2008, which saw a slight increase. In 2009, cases spiked, reaching 52 by the end of the year. Last year saw a decrease from that, with 2010 reaching only 26 confirmed cases.
Still, Tull warns that even with a 50-percent decrease from 2009, last year’s numbers were still well above average.
The largest percentage of rabies cases every year comes from raccoons, with foxes, bats and other wild mammals contributing. Domestic cases make up a much smaller portion, but Tull pointed out that there was one rapid cat found in the county in 2009 and two in 2010.
“It can lead to a sad situation,” said Tull, referencing the fact that once an unvaccinated animal is exposed to rabies it is nearly always fatal.
Upcoming clinics will be held at the Animal Control Center in Snow Hill on Jan. 19, Feb. 16 and March 16 from 5:30-7 p.m. The cost is $5 for residents of Worcester County and $10 for non-residents with proof of residency being required. The shelter asks that all cats and ferrets be in carriers or boxes with air holes and all dogs be leashed and under the control of an adult.
Besides first vaccinations, the clinic will offer boosters for pets nearing the effective end of their original shot. Owners should bring all related records to help the veterinarian the shelter will have on hand.