Your worst zoo-related nightmare shouldn’t be an escaped jungle cat or poisonous snake sneaking up on you. It’s a rabid groundhog stalking you and others around the premises.
Last year, a Maryland man got a kidney transplant, which must have seemed like a blessing in disguise at the time. Well, it wasn’t; the man contracted rabies from his new organ a year after the transplant, and died not long afterwards. This is the second time on record in the United States that an organ donor has infected a recipient with rabies through an organ transplant.
Over the past three weeks, two cats and a fox have been euthanized in North Baltimore after tests revealed that they had rabies. Three cases does not make an epidemic, but if you live in the 21210, 21211, or 21212 zip codes consider yourself forewarned — and consider keeping your pets inside.
Tragic twist in the baby-fox-rescue story we reported yesterday. (To review: Volunteer firefighters in Harford County responding to an emergency call in Edgewood Tuesday night saved a small fox trapped in a storm drain. The fox was taken to Chadwell Animal Hospital Wednesday morning, and Phoenix Wildlife Center welcomed the fox once he was stable.) Thoughtful reader “Jeremy” posted this comment yesterday afternoon: “The firefighters should be commended for showing such kindness, but this is far from a cute story now that the Harford County Health Department ordered the fox pup to be euthanized and tested for rabies just because an unknowing kind firefighter touched the pup without gloves. This unfortunately is the reality of what happens if you innocently touch foxes or raccoon babies and Maryland DNR or a health department finds out. So let’s all learn from this and make sure this poor little baby fox did not die without something important being learned.”
Heartbroken, I called the fire station; volunteers hadn’t heard a word. I followed up with Chadwell to confirm that the fox was indeed euthanized, which is sadly true. I contacted David Reiher, Harford County Health Department Rabies and Vector Control Program Coordinator, who declined to comment but sent an official statement via Public Information Officer William Wiseman.
Were you one of the 70,567 fans lucky enough to go to the August 17 preseason game between the Ravens and the Detroit Lions? If so, you got to see a dispiriting 27-12 loss. Oh, and you might have been exposed to rabies, too.
On Wednesday, the Baltimore City Health Department confirmed a positive case of rabies in a stray domestic short hair female cat, found July 7th in the 400 block of Kingston Road, just east of the Baltimore City/County line. A resident brought the animal, who was injured, to a vet clinic, where it was euthanized upon arrival. The rescuing resident is the only person who received exposure to the animal–the individual is receiving medical treatment. Rabies is an extremely serious viral disease, and it is important (and the law) that you have your pets vaccinated against it, and also important to keep pets from wandering off your property.
The instance of this sick stray cat is not cause for fresh panic, as it is not likely that another positive case of rabies will surface in Baltimore for years. Most likely, the cat caught the disease from a rabid raccoon or other wild animal, one more reason not to let your pets prowl.
“While rare, rabies does occur, more commonly in wildlife such as raccoons and foxes. These animals are present even in the city, which is why we recommend that people not leave pets outside unattended,” explained David Drake, director of development at the MD SPCA.
According to a Health Department press release, “The last positive rabies case of a cat or dog in Baltimore City was in August 2008. Prior to that case, the last positive rabies case of a cat or dog was in 1986.”
There has not been a case of human rabies in Maryland since 1976.
“Rabies is a life threatening disease which can be easily prevented with a simple vaccination,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “By regularly vaccinating your pets, you are helping protect not just yourself and your family, but your neighbors and the larger community.”
Symptoms of rabies in animals include aggressive behavior, biting, darting eye movement, drooling, and sometimes lethargic behavior. If you come across such an animal, protect yourself first, second, contact the Health Department’s Animal Control Program by dialing 311 for support.