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Maryland Reports First Rabies Death Since 1976

Mar 13, 2013 08:44 AM EDT
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Maryland has now confirmed its first death of rabies since 1976, according to a statement released by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH).

The agency said that it hasn't yet found how the person was exposed to the rabies virus.

"DHMH, in conjunction with clinicians and public health partners, is assessing the risk of rabies exposure in those who had direct contact with the individual. When people are exposed to rabies, it is usually because of a bite from an infected animal, not from contact with another person," DHMH said in the statement.

The rates of rabies infection decreased dramatically from being around 100 each year in the early 1900s to being around one or two by the 1990s, CDC says. The modern prophylaxis has been proven 100 percent effective in controlling the disease. Especially in the U.S., deaths associated with rabies are mostly due to failure of the infected person to seek medical care.

DHMH added that all dogs, cats and ferrets need to be vaccinated against the rabies virus. Last year, the DHMH detected some 320 animals with rabies.

Rabies is a zoonotic disease (a disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans) caused by viruses of the Lyssavirus genus.

Symptoms of the disease include fever and often pain or an unusual or unexplained tingling, pricking or burning sensation (paraesthesia) at the wound site, according to the World Health Organization. More than 55,000 people die of the disease each year, mostly in Asia and Africa. In countries like the U.S. and Canada, where rabies incidence is low, the source of the virus are bats.

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