Anne Arundel County dealing with spike in rabid animals

It can be frightening to see a stumbling, disoriented, rabid raccoon in your neighborhood. 
 
Your chance of seeing one in Anne Arundel County has been on the rise two years straight.
 
Experts say there are natural peaks and dips in the number but the increase could also be attributed to the Oral Rabies Vaccination Program. That is, the fact that it was cut a few years back. 
 
"When we got to 2011, many years, seven or eight years after we had done the whole county, we only had four positive animals so we went from 97 down to four and then we lost the funding in 2011," said Don Curtian, Deputy Director of Environmental Health for the Anne Arundel County Department of Health. 
 
Since losing that funding, the number of rabid animals went from four up to eleven in 2012 and nearly tripled in 2013 to 30.
 
The money started coming from the United States Department of Agriculture in 1998 to bait certain parts of the county.
 
The program expanded to the entire county in 2000, each year seeing a decrease in the number of rabid animals roaming around.
 
State Director for Wildlife Services Kevin Sullivan, says with the limited funding available, Anne Arundel County no longer fit into their National Rabies Management Program.  
 
"They just looked at cost efficiencies and the analysis of what our national goals are and right now the ORV, the Oral Rabies Vaccination Program, the barrier goes from Maine to Alabama following the Appalachian ridge. So this project in Anne Arundel County was very interior to that," Sullivan said. 
 
That means that for the past two years, no vaccinations went out. However, the Department of Health wasn't left to completely fend for itself. 
 
"Right now in Anne Arundel County we're doing post bait surveillance to see what the efficacy of the project was for all the years up to this point and we're getting good serology data or blood data that is showing that there's still a good ... vaccine response, in those animals," Sullivan said. 
 
This year though, some good news.
 
Anne Arundel County Council found money for the program in the Health Department budget and it will begin again in September.
 
"We've budgeted for the campaign so that Anne Arundel County will be putting on the whole campaign themselves. There is no outside funding. It's all coming from Anne Arundel County," Curtian said. 
 
Curtian describes the ORV program as a coordinated, almost tactical approach to distributing bait around the county.
 
Ground teams will take coolers loaded with baits and go into neighborhoods looking for areas where raccoons will most likely come in contact with the baits.
 
The strategy changes for more rural areas.
 
"We actually partner with the Anne Arundel County Police Department and they fly by helicopter. We put teams in the helicopter and they fly the rural and agricultural areas of Anne Arundel County and those baits are distributed by helicopter," Curtian said. 
 
All told, 80,000 baits will be distributed throughout the county starting in September. 
 
Aside from recognizing the baits when you see them and keeping your pets away from them, there are other precautions you can take to stay safe.
 
For starters, keep your distance. Don't get close to a wild animal, especially one that's potentially infected. 
 
"It's very odd to see animals such as raccoons which are mainly nocturnal, out in the daytime and when they have rabies, they're very disoriented and they can become very aggressive," Curtian said. 
 
Be sure to vaccinate your pets and be sure to cover your garbage cans securely. Don't leave anything outside that could attract wild or stray animals. 
 
"Keep in mind, when we bait for the raccoons and we put that bait out there, we're not going to reach that whole animal population so don't feel if you come in contact or have raccoons around your house that they are safe," Curtian told ABC2. 
 
Curtian said there is no way they can get to all of them, instead that number is usually anywhere between 25 percent and 40 percent.
 
While you're out enjoying the summer weather, he said there is no need to be concerned, but certainly aware. 
 
"If you see an animal that comes out in the daytime that is acting strangely, you want to keep you and your family and your pets at the safest distance possible to not come in any contact with that animal," Curtian said. 
 
Experts say the cost of living with rabies in America continues to increase. It has exceeded $300 million per year. The costs include disease detection, prevention, and control.
 
Human deaths attributed to rabies in the United States have dropped from 100 per year to 1 to 2 annually. 
 
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