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3 Mecklenburg rabies cases found

Staff Writer

Posted on Fri, Jun. 28, 2002

Mecklenburg County health officials confirmed cases of rabies this week in three animals -- a bat, a raccoon and a fox -- that may have exposed four children and four adults.

Last year, the county reported 26 rabid animals. This year, 16 cases have been reported so far.

"There are a lot of animals out there carrying the virus, so we have to be vigilant," said Al Piercy, epidemiology specialist for the county's communicable disease control office. "We had five (rabies cases) last month and six this month."

On Wednesday, lab tests confirmed rabies in a fox that bit one 9-year-old boy and may have scratched another Monday at Thompson Children's Home in Matthews.

On Tuesday, tests confirmed rabies in a bat found Saturday in a home on Flowering Dogwood Lane in southeast Charlotte. It was the second rabid bat found in the home this month, Piercy said.

Also on Tuesday, tests confirmed rabies in a raccoon that attacked a family's dog on Bridlespur Lane in south Charlotte.

Piercy advised residents to avoid stray animals and to be sure pets have up-to-date rabies shots. N.C. law requires shots for dogs and cats at 4 months of age, then again a year later, and then every three years.

He also urged people not to feed pets outside because even an empty dish attracts wild animals searching for food.

If a pet has been in contact with a potentially rabid animal, owners should wear gloves or wash the pet with a hose to get rid of the virus before approaching the pet.

The Bridlespur Lane homeowner said he stunned the raccoon with a 2-iron golf club, and his wife calmed their dog, a white Labrador and greyhound mix named L.D. She then let the dog in the house, where it licked their 4 1/2-year-old son. All three are now receiving shots that will cost $10,000, not including the emergency room fee, he said.

The child's father said he did not know rabies could be transmitted through saliva. "I thought you had to be bitten."

The two boys from Thompson Children's Home are also receiving shots, and Piercy recommended shots for the three family members exposed to bats.

The 9-year-old boys at the children's home were playing in the yard Monday evening when they saw what looked like two kittens scampering, said Nancy Roberson, senior vice president for external affairs.

The boys chased the animals, and "they chased the boys back," Roberson said. One of the foxes bit one boy on the arm; the other boy may have been scratched.

Staff members took them to an emergency room, and both started rabies shots, Roberson said. "We couldn't take any chances."

The Thompson home is on 50 acres surrounded by woods, and children have been taught not to play with animals because the home does not have pets, she said. "It might not have been so tempting if it had been a mean old ugly fox."

Rabies in North Carolina peaked in 1997 with 879 cases and dropped to 442 by 1999. It grew to 571 last year and is on pace to reach the same number this year.

The illness is rare in people because the vaccine is so effective, Piercy said. Five cases were reported in 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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