SNOW HILL — With Worcester County preparing to offer its last two rabies clinics of 2011 in November, health officials urge owners to get their pets vaccinated.
“[Pets] rely on us to protect them,” said Worcester County Health Department (WCHD) Rabies Coordinator Janet Tull.
According to Tull, Worcester saw a rabies epidemic beginning in 2008. By 2009, there were 52 documented cases of rabies in pets and wildlife. In response to the increase, the county decided to offer 13 clinics this year. While the majority of pet owners have their pets vaccinated through veterinarians, Tull explained that the clinics are a “low-cost alternative.”
Since the epidemic began, reported cases of rabies have been decreasing, dropping to 26 in 2010 with only 14 reported so far this year. However, Tull asserted that those numbers are deceptive, since they only account for pets that have tested positive for the disease and the actual number of wild animals with rabies in the county is completely unknown.
“Rabies is always here … there’s always going to be contact,” she said.
Even the number of rabid pets can be difficult to gauge, she added, since not all cases go reported. No matter the size of the epidemic, however, Tull stressed the best defense a pet owner can provide is a vaccination.
“You can’t do it after the fact … your pet can’t protect itself from [rabies],” she said.
The 11 clinics conducted so far have led to the vaccination of 1,196 pets. The cost for Worcester residents is $5, with non-residents paying $10. The final two clinics of this year will take place Nov. 2 and Nov. 16, both from 5:30-7 p.m. at Worcester County Animal Control on Timmons Road in Snow Hill.
Besides looking out for the health and welfare of a pet, Tull revealed that rabies vaccinations are legally required for all dogs, cats, and ferrets over four months old in Maryland, and strongly suggested for horses. Also, not only does a vaccination protect a pet, but it protects the owner and their family as well.
“Rabies is a disease that can be transmitted to humans,” said Tull.
While a vaccination is the best defense against rabies, Tull advised pet owners to keep a few other points in mind to reduce the chance of contact, and thus the possibility of infection, with a rabid animal. Garbage cans should be covered securely, food should not be left outside, and any exposure to wild animals or bites from any animal should be reported immediately to the health department, animal control, or police department.
For more information on the clinics or to report exposure, call WCHD at 410-352-3234 or 410-641-9559.