On Sunday, Nov. 8 around 1 p.m., a rabid raccoon was shot in the area of 403 Cannon St.by Chestertown police officer Louis Speight. According to a campus-wide email sent out by Public Safety the day after the incident occurred, the raccoon was acting aggressively and came after Speight. “The raccoon was acting oddly and seen as an immediate threat,” said Jerry Roderick, director of Public Safety.
According to the Kent County News, the raccoon was fenced inside the yard of an abandoned house. A carpenter working on a nearby house noticed it, and when John Beskid, director of Kent County Environmental Health, came to inspect the situation. The raccoon began to chase him. Beskid called Speight, who came to the scene and shot the raccoon with his handgun after it went after him too.
“The best thing that can happen [from a situation like this] is for the animal to be captured and sent off for testing,” said Roderick. This is exactly what happened, as the raccoon was tested for rabies, and the results came back positive.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rabies virus targets the nervous system and the brain. It is especially dangerous because its symptoms are so similar to those that match other illnesses, like fever, headache, and general discomfort. After these general symptoms occur, more specific symptoms appear that can include anxiety, hallucinations, hyper salivation, and difficulty swallowing.
Rabies is not a new threat to the Chestertown area. “There is a high rate of rabies in this area,” Roderick said, citing an issue seen with a rabid bat in one of the dorms last year. According to a 2013 study conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association, there has been a 17.2 percent increase in the presence of rabid raccoons in Maryland since 2012. Although only about 34 cases of rabies being diagnosed in humans in the whole U.S. have occurred since 2013, it is still extremely important to understand the disease since Maryland is a prominent area where it is seen.
The Humane Society of Kent County helped spread awareness of the incident through their Facebook page and offered their own tokens of advice. “This is not something to take lightly,. Please be vigilant about keeping both indoor and outdoor pets updated on vaccines, and report any animal that appears sick and/or aggressive.”
A clear sign of an animal being rabid is if a typically nocturnal animal is out in the daytime. “Seeing a raccoon out in the daytime is a clear sign that something is out of place,” said Beskid. “These are normally nocturnal animals and usually avoid humans. People should avoid them at all costs and call animal control if they are getting too close to humans.” Roderick cited other animals that can carry rabies including foxes, feral cats, dogs, and bats.
These animals are sometimes seen around busier areas of Chestertown, such as the shopping centers. “We don’t want people trying to cuddle up [with these animals],” Roderick said. “Foxes [especially] typically want to stay away from people.”
If a student comes in contact with an animal that could possibly be rabid, emergency response must take place, for rabies can be fatal if not treated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first thing that must happen is washing the wound with soap and water to decrease the chances of infection.
After washing the wound, more specialized actions can take place. Roderick said, “An emergency shot can be given within several hours that can prevent infection.” This vaccination is called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and is tailored to the victim depending on the animal that has attacked as well as where the attack took place geographically.
While there are so few cases of rabies being diagnosed in humans, being cautious is always a good idea. If you are out and about anywhere, but especially in Chestertown, be aware of your surroundings and practice good judgment when it comes to wild animals.