- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

Health officials in Loudoun County, Va., said nearly 20 Girl Scouts are taking protective vaccinations because of a chance they were exposed to rabies at a Northern Virginia camp this summer.

“That’s just being very cautious,” said Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Health Department. “We wanted to be sure they were safe and the parents were reassured, and the best way to do that was for those girls to go through the series of vaccine shots.”

The members of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital stayed at Camp Potomac Woods near Leesburg from June 18 through July 22. Health officials issued notification about rabies concerns after one girl told her mother that she had seen a bat in her cabin.

Five bats caught at the shelter tested negative for rabies, but officials sent letters to the families of about 950 Girl Scouts.

About 500 families responded, and 18 girls elected to receive treatment.

“None of the girls ever remember being bitten by a bat,” Dr. Goodfriend said.

“Two girls recalled petting a bat around its mouth. The other girls remember having bats in their shelter but did not use the mosquito netting provided in the shelter.”

Rabies vaccinations cost about $2,000 and usually consist of five shots over the course of a month and one shot of antibodies. The Girl Scouts’ campers insurance will cover the cost of the treatment, officials said.

Rabies is a viral disease most often transmitted through the bite of an infected animal, but sometimes through saliva contact with the eyes, nose or mouth, or an open wound. The most common transmission to humans in the United States is through bats, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Last year, Virginia authorities confirmed 495 reports of rabid animals, including 28 cats and four dogs.

Maryland reported 380 cases of animal rabies in 2005, mostly in raccoons. The District reported seven raccoons and two bats with rabies through May of this year.

Rabies cases in humans are rare, officials said, but often are fatal without early treatment. The disease has not killed a person in Northern Virginia since 2003 and in Maryland since 1976.

Lucy Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health, said seven of the roughly 400 bats submitted to the state for testing through July have had rabies.

“We’re not seeing necessarily any increase in [rabies cases],” Mrs. Caldwell said.

“But certainly at this time of year with the heat wave, with young bats leaving the nest, the health departments do tend to get an increase in the number of bat call,” she added.

Dr. Goodfriend said Camp Potomac Woods now has screens in its shelters to keep out bats.

Mrs. Caldwell said the state health department hopes to increase its education and outreach to camps and outdoor groups about the dangers of interacting with bats.

Anne Arundel County, Md., health officials will begin an annual raccoon immunization project Sept. 6. by scattering more than 81,000 pieces of bait containing rabies vaccine.

Joseph Horman, the county’s public health veterinarian, said that Anne Arundel at one time had the highest incidence of rabid animals in Maryland, but that the project has reduced that number.

Last year, the county reported 26 cases of animal rabies, compared with 72 cases in 1998 and 97 cases in 1997.

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