Positive Rabies ID In Bat Leads To Local Outreach

BERLIN — The positive identification of rabies in a bat in Pocomoke Monday has prompted the Worcester County Health Department (WCHD) to remind residents that bats and other rabid animals remain a yearly danger but one that can be greatly mitigated by awareness.

Reported cases of rabies this year are far lower than the average for the past several years, but 2014 is only half over and cases do have a habit of seeing in an uptick in the summer.

The identification of rabies in a bat found near Third Street in Pocomoke marks the seventh documented case of the disease this year. That’s much lower than the 46 cases last year, the 19 in 2012, 16 in 2011, 26 in 2010 and all of those figures are shy of the 52 cases identified in 2009.

“We’ve found that it tends to be a little bit cyclic. It will go up and down,” said Angela Richardson, a licensed Environmental Health Specialist. “There’s no real way we can predict what’s going to come in but it does tend to have that cyclic pattern where it will go up really high one year and the next year it will be lower. We just don’t know what’s going to come in day-to-day.”

Only having seven confirmed reports so far is encouraging, though by no way an indication that this will be a light year for rabies. With increased activity and exposure, summer can bring about a spike in reports, though Richardson explained that the unpredictable nature of the disease makes it hard to outguess.

“It tends to go up some in the summer, but in the past few years we’ve gotten then in December or January…some years we’ve had it start off really slowly and then it will bloom in the fall,” she said.

On Thursday, the WCHD reported a colony of bats was identified in a structure on Third Street after the initial report. The press release stated, “A wildlife control professional was brought in to exclude the bats from the structure. The health department has received several calls from residents in the surrounding area reporting bats found on their property.”

The WCHD if an individual or pet animal has had contact with a bat, especially a bite or a scratch, contact the Worcester County Environmental Health program at 410-352-3234 or after hours the local police department or 911 to report the bat.  If available, the bat may need to be collected for rabies testing.

Due to Worcester’s rural nature, reports of rabies skew a bit higher than some other counties on the Eastern Shore. County residents also have shown an above average awareness of the disease and recognition of the signs, according to Richardson. That’s a good thing as fewer cases are going unnoticed, allowing rabies to be isolated sooner, which is vital for a disease that can spread so easily.

Some of that awareness can probably be attributed to WCHD, which stepped up educational efforts following the huge number of incidents seen a few years ago.

“We have really informed citizens, it seems like, who report things more,” said Richardson. “Where we had so many cases in 2009 we started to do a lot of outreach and education so I think it gets reported here more often.”

That outreach is apparent in reports of the case of rabies identified in Pocomoke. While raccoons make up by far the majority of rabies incidents on the East Coast, bats will turn up occasionally and require a special kind of awareness since it can be tougher to recognize the possibility of infection

“Bats have small teeth which may leave marks which are not easily seen,” read a release issued by WCHD. “Although many people know if they have been bitten by a bat, there are certain circumstances when a person might not be aware or unable to tell you that they have been bitten.”