Rabies Prevention Information

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. In Maryland, rabies is found most often in raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, and groundhogs. Other mammals, including dogs, cats, and farm animals can also get rabies. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear, but is completely preventable. Read below to learn more about how you can avoid rabies exposure and what to do if you have been bitten by a strange animal.

Dog Cat Ferret

Wildlife Safety & Rabies Prevention

Squirrel eating a nut

Spring and Summer often provide opportunities to interact with wildlife. To keep yourself and your family and pets safe from Rabies exposure, we recommend the following:

  • Do not touch injured, sick or orphaned wildlife (even babies).
  • Do not allow pets to come in contact with sick, injured or orphaned wildlife
  • Report sick or injured wildlife to USDA Wildlife Services at 1-877-463-6497.

Resources for what to do in case of sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife:

Bats and Rabies Prevention

bat hanging from a tree

One of the leading causes of possible rabies exposure in Howard County comes from residents coming into contact with bats. This includes children touching/playing with bats they find outside and adults handling bats they find inside or outside the home.

  • Bats are the leading cause of rabies deaths in people in the United States.
  • Rabid bats have been found in all 49 continental states. Only Hawaii is rabies-free.
  • The good news is that most bats don’t have rabies. But you can’t tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it. Rabies can only be confirmed in a laboratory.
  • Prevent bats from entering your home by using window screens and chimney caps and by closing any openings greater than ¼ inch by ½ inch.
  • Bat bites can be very small. If you’ve been in contact with a bat – even if you aren’t sure you’ve been bitten or scratched – talk to a healthcare or the health department about your risk and whether or not you need to be vaccinated.

Learn more about avoiding the risk of rabies from bats from the CDC.

Rabies Vaccination Laws

Howard County Code 17.301 Rabies vaccinations; licenses and tags; fees helps protect pets, owners, and the public from rabies and its spread.  It requires owners of dogs, cats and ferrets over four months old to continually protect the animal against getting rabies by having it vaccinated. Howard County Health Department and the Animal Control and Adoption Center hold monthly vaccination clinics to help you comply with County Code requiring vaccination to protect your dog, cat or ferret from the deadly rabies virus.


If you have been bitten by a stranger's pet dog, cat, ferret, etc., be sure to obtain contact information from the pet's owner. This information can be shared with a health department representative if follow-up is necessary to verify the animal's rabies vaccination records. (The Health Department does NOT confiscate or punish pets who bite or scratch humans. Verification of a vaccinated, healthy, rabies-free pet is needed to avoid a person having to undergo a Rabies vaccine series.)


What can you do to prevent rabies exposure in yourself and your pets?

  • Vaccinate your dogs, cats and ferrets regularly.
  • Do not let pets roam free.
  • Enjoy wildlife from a distance.
  • Teach children to stay away from animals they don’t know.
  • Cover garbage cans securely and do not leave pet food outside.
  • Prevent bats from​ entering your home.​
  • Report bites and other animal exposures to your local health department, animal control agency, or police.

The best prevention is to have your pet vaccinated. An animal that has been properly vaccinated is nearly 100% protected should it encounter another animal with rabies. Although most cases of rabies in the United States occur in wild animals, you should have your pets vaccinated on a regular basis to ensure they are protected. Vaccines work best if they are given before exposure and updated regularly. 

Animal owners should also take care to maintain control of their pets to minimize contact with wild animals that may have rabies. Letting your pets run free, even if they are well-trained, increases the risk they may encounter a rabid animal.


How is the Howard County Health Department Protecting you from rabies?


The Bureau of Environmental Health is responsible for protecting Howard County citizens and their pets from rabies. Each year over 600 incidents are reported in the county, and 5-10 animals test positive for the rabies virus. An Environmental Health Specialist or Community Health Nurse is on call 24 hours a day to evaluate all reported incidents. If a pet is involved in an incident, it is typically quarantined at the owner’s home so that it can be monitored for signs of rabies. Quarantines also prevent further exposure of people or animals to the rabies virus. Call 410-313-1773 during business hours or 410-313-2929 after hours.


What does it mean to quarantine a pet/animal?


Quarantine means confinement to minimize contact with other people or animals. Whenever an animal causes an injury resulting in a break in the skin, it must be quarantined to allow the Health Department to determine if either you or your pet have been exposed to rabies. While under quarantine, the animal must be kept inside your home or other enclosure, and care taken to prevent or minimize contact with other people or animals. If your pet shows significant changes in behavior or becomes sick while under the quarantine, the Health Department Community Hygiene Program should be notified immediately at 410-313-1773.


When should I seek medical care?


If you’ve been in contact with any wildlife or unfamiliar animals, particularly if you’ve been bitten or scratched, you should talk with a healthcare or public health professional to determine your risk for rabies or other illnesses. Wash any wounds immediately with soap and water and then plan to see a healthcare provider. (It’s important to know that, unlike most other animals that carry rabies, many types of bats have very small teeth which may leave marks that disappear quickly. If you are unsure, seek medical advice to be safe.)

Remember that rabies is a medical urgency but not an emergency. Decisions should not be delayed.

See your doctor for attention for any trauma due to an animal attack before considering the need for rabies vaccination. After any wounds have been addressed, your doctor – possibly in consultation with your state or local health department – will help you decide if you need treatment known as rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP). Decisions to start PEP will be based on your type of exposure, the animal you were exposed to, whether the animal is available for testing, and laboratory and surveillance information for the geographic area where the exposure occurred.

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