A raccoon that bit a homeowner who was hanging up decorations in Kings Creek has tested positive for rabies, officials say.
The raccoon was hiding in some bushes when the homeowner in the Rehoboth Beach community was bit on Dec. 9, said Jen Brestel, community relations officer for the Division of Public Health.
Public health officials confirmed the raccoon tested positive for rabies on Dec. 13. The homeowner has begun treatment for the bite, Brestel said.
Brestel would not release an exact location of where the rabid raccoon was hiding, but she recommends the entire Kings Creek community be on alert.
“More concerning to us is that everyone in the community is made aware of the precautions to avoid wild or unfamiliar domestic animals, so that they can protect themselves,” she said. “Office of Animal Welfare officers are going door-to-door in the community to provide notification. This should help increase resident awareness.”
Rabies in humans and animals cannot be cured once symptoms appear. If the animal is of unknown origin, or unavailable to be quarantined or tested, the Division of Public Health recommends that people receive post-exposure prophylaxis treatment, a series of four vaccinations, as a precautionary measure.
Anyone who thinks they might have been bitten, scratched or come in contact with a raccoon should immediately contact their healthcare provider or call the DPH Rabies Program at 302-744-4995. An epidemiologist is available 24/7. Also anyone who thinks their pet may have been bitten by this raccoon should call their private veterinarian or the Delaware Department of Agriculture at 302-698-4630.
Residents should take precautions against rabies by:
- Avoiding wild and feral animals, even when the animal seems friendly. Not all rabid animals exhibit the classic signs of the rabies illness, such as aggression, depression or other abnormal behavior.
- Ensuring their pets are up to date with rabies shots.
- Keeping pets indoors or, while outside, supervising them on a leash.
Since January 2017, Health Department officials have performed rabies tests on 137 animals, 16 of which were confirmed to be rabid, including five raccoons, six cats, two dogs, two bats and one fox. Six of the positive rabies cases involved a bite to humans, and three of the positive cases were in Sussex County. Officials only announce those rabies cases in which it is possible the animal had unknown contacts with humans, Brestel said.
Rabies is an infectious disease affecting the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Infection can occur through the bite or scratch of an infected animal or if saliva from such an animal gets into the eyes, nose, mouth or an opening in the skin.
Fortunately, Brestel said, rabies is also almost 100 percent preventable. Officials recommend members of the public take the necessary steps to stay clear of exposure to rabies. Rabies prevention starts with the animal owner. Vaccination of pets and livestock is a crucial factor in rabies prevention.
- All dogs, cats and ferrets 6 months of age and older are required by Delaware law to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian. Consider vaccinating livestock and horses. It is recommended to consult with your private veterinarian if you have any questions regarding whether your animal(s) should be rabies vaccinated.
- Pet owners can reduce the possibility of pets being exposed to rabies by not letting them roam free.
- Spaying or neutering your pet may reduce the tendency to roam or fight and thus reduce the chance they will be exposed to rabies.
- Do not keep your pet’s food or water outdoors; bowls can attract wild and stray animals.
- Keep your garbage securely covered.
- Do not handle unfamiliar animals, including cats and dogs, even if they appear friendly.
Brestel said is someone sees a sick or injured animal and there was no exposure through a bit, scratch or contact with saliva, they can call DNREC’s wildlife section at 735-3600 or 739-9912.
For more information on the Delaware Division of Public Health's rabies program, visit: http://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/dpc/rabies.html or call 1-866-972-9705 or 302-744-4995. For more information on rabies, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information from the Division of Public Health