Health Department Concerned Over Rise In Rabies Cases - Southern Maryland Headline News

Health Department Concerned Over Rise In Rabies Cases


Icenhower also worried over possible surge in mosquito, tick populations

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (June 12, 2008)—The St. Mary’s Count Health Department is concerned that the rate of rabies cases in 2008 have already come close to annual totals for previous years.

If rates continue as they have the number of rabies cases could double, causing a serious health issue.

The number of rabies cases reported so far this year in St. Mary’s totals to 13, which is only one case short of the total of cases for all of 2005.

That year holds the record of rabies cases recorded here at 14 incidents.

The county health department is advising pet owners to reexamine their pets vaccination records to ensure their pets’ rabies shots are up to date.

The disease can be fatal, according to information from the health department. At least one case of rabies showed how aggressive an infected animal could be.

“One recent case involved a skunk, which came in contact with four dogs that were not current on their rabies vaccine status,” said Ann Rose, environmental health sanitarian for the department. “Despite the fact that the dogs were enclosed in a fenced area, the skunk managed to gain access to their area.”

Those dogs are now confined to a state of isolation for six months because they could develop the disease’s symptoms.

There were four cases of rabies reported in May alone, according to the health department, and each case involved either a rabid skunk or raccoon.

Pets who are up to date on their vaccinations and come in contact with a rabies-infected animal must be quarantined for 45 days, according to health department regulations, or about a month-and-a-half.

Rabies is spread through saliva, and allowing pets to roam freely where they can come in contact with both wild and domesticated animals increases their risk of contracting the disease, according to the health department.

Residents are encouraged to report animals acting in a strange or aggressive manner to animal control as well as any bites or scratches sustained from animals suspected of carrying the disease.

But rabies isn’t the only public health concern on the horizon.

In a letter penned to the Board of County Commissioners June 5, Dr. William F. Icenhower, the county’s chief health officer expressed his worry that there could be a surge in the mosquito and tick populations this summer.

“Between the heat and the rain there’s a fair chance we could have a huge mosquito population,” Icenhower told The County Times Monday. “I’d like to anticipate the problem.”

Icenhower said that there have been no reports of mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile Virus or Japanese encephalitis but there is no medication to treat those diseases once a person is infected he said.

“There’s nothing to do, there’s no medication,” he said. “Prevention is the only way to go.”

Icenhower said that information from the Department of Agriculture showed that it’s shaping up to be the worst year in 30 years for mosquitoes and that crews are already putting out poison to kill mosquito larvae. Spraying for adult mosquitoes will begin in a few days, he said.

Ticks are also worrisome he said. As the key spreader of lyme disease, ticks are often found on deer, of which there appears to be a strong number in the county, Icenhower said.

While he said he has seen little scientific evidence so far that ticks are on the rise, anecdotal evidence was a cause for concern.

“I’ve had a lot of people come to me and say they’ve had a lot of problems with ticks,” he said. “That they’ll go outside for a walk and find ticks on their dog.”

He asked any resident to report cases of suspected Lyme Disease to the health department.

For more information on rabies prevention visit the department’s Web site at www.smchd.org or call 301-475-4321.

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