OCEAN CITY — Worcester County Health Department officials are urging residents and visitors to Ocean City to use caution around wild animals this week after a rabid raccoon was discovered.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">
The health department was initially notified on Tuesday about an aggressive raccoon near Northside Park that had already attacked one individual. It was later learned that two more individuals were charged by what authorities believe is the same raccoon.
The raccoon first came at a group of landscapers working around Northside Park on Tuesday and made contact with one of the crewmembers. Although the individual wasn’t bitten, nor did he have an open wound, the worker was treated with shots for rabies because he had come in contact with the rabid wild animal.
Strangely enough, the same landscaping crew was working in a different area in north Ocean City about five blocks away the next day when presumably the same rabid raccoon attacked them again. The raccoon reportedly swam across a canal and came out of the water soaking wet and aggressively approached the landscaping crew, which ultimately hit the animal with a shovel and killed it. The dead raccoon later tested positive for rabies.
Rabies is an ongoing issue in Worcester County and affects local wildlife. The animals most frequently confirmed with rabies in the county are raccoons, foxes, skunks, groundhogs and cats. Any person, pet or other animal that may have had contact with that particular raccoon or other wildlife suspected of having rabies may be at risk for exposure to rabies. Any potential exposures should be reported immediately so a risk assessment can be done. To report any contact with or exposure to this particular raccoon or any other wildlife suspected of being rabid, call the Worcester County Health Department at 410-632-1100, or (410) 352-3234.
If a pet has had contact with a wild or suspect animal, a veterinarian or the health department should be contacted. Wounds found on an outdoor pet from an encounter not witnessed should be treated as a possible rabies exposure. Appropriate management for pets will be determined and currently vaccinated animals should be re-boostered after exposure.
Reports of sick or aggressive wildlife or strays should be reported immediately so law enforcement can assess the situation and contain the suspect animal to minimize the potential for exposure to other pets or persons. Animals suspected of being rabid should then be made available for testing by the health department when warranted.
Meanwhile, the health department this week is offering tips to protect individuals and pets from rabies exposure. Pets should be vaccinated and those vaccinations should be kept current. Maryland law requires vaccination against rabies for all dogs, cats and ferrets over four months of age. Rabies vaccinations have limited times of protection, so pet owners should verify that their animals are currently protected.
The health department is also urging pet owners not to feed their animals outdoors. Pet food, or even the odor of it, can attract potentially rabid wild animals. Looking for food is normal behavior for raccoons and other wild animals, which may return to areas where they have found food before even after they become rabid. Also, secure trash cans and dumpster for the same reason. Wild animals forage for food and minimizing food sources will discourage wildlife from coming on to a property.
Finally, report immediately to local law enforcement or animal control any wild animal or stray behaving abnormally or acting aggressively, particularly if contact with humans or pets is imminent or has already occurred. Do not touch bare-handed any pet that has fought with a wild or suspected rabid animal.