Unusual Spike Continues In Worcester Rabies Cases

BERLIN – The rabies
epidemic of 2009 is continuing in 2010, with 22 confirmed cases in Worcester
County since January.

Sixteen raccoons, four
foxes, and two cats in Worcester County have been confirmed as rabid this year.

Normally, Worcester
County sees 10 to 10 confirmed rabies cases a year. In 2009, county
environmental health staff recorded 52 laboratory confirmed rabid animals,

Last year, the county
had 27 confirmed cases of rabies by mid-July, compared with this year’s 22.
Health staff has also counted 16 reports of suspected cases of rabies in

Two weeks ago, an animal
hospital employee found a rabid cat in West Ocean City. 

County health staff
noted a lull in June, but cases have increased in July.

“July is picking right
back up again which is unusual,” said Ed Potetz, environmental health director
for Worcester County.

Report numbers are
slightly down compared to last year, Potetz said, probably because they do not send
every potentially rabid animal in for laboratory confirmation. The testing
process is used to help track the progress of the disease, but rabies has
appeared in all areas of the county now, he said.

Rabies cases are more
prevalent in the spring and fall, as animals move around to mate, or offspring
of that year strikes out for their own territory, but rabies in Worcester
County has not followed that pattern for 18 months. Four cases were found
during the February snows.

No one seems to know why
rabies has increased in Worcester County. Rabies is a cyclic disease, but
increases are usually followed by less cases the following year.

Reducing rabies in
Worcester County depends on public action.

“People got to be more
vigilant in getting their animals vaccinated,” said Potetz. “At this stage, we
want to try to reduce down animals from developing the disease.”

Pet owners need to check
the dates on their pets’ vaccinations and make sure to keep up with the
necessary booster shots, he said. A current rabies vaccination can be the
difference between isolating a pet that has come into contact with a rabid
animal and euthanasia.

Potetz said he and his
staff hate to issue a euthanasia order for a pet, but human health is a
priority. There is no cure for the rabies virus. The biggest vaccination lack
is with pet cats.

“A lot of our cats are
not being vaccinated,” said Potetz. “About 30 percent of our cats are
vaccinated and that’s it.”