20 Girl Scout Campers Advised to Get Shots

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Loudoun County health officials said yesterday that they have recommended rabies shots for 20 of about 950 Girl Scouts who attended an overnight camp in the county this summer -- just in case any of the girls came into contact with a diseased bat.

About 530 of the girls who attended Camp Potomac Woods, outside of Leesburg, have been deemed not at risk, and officials are trying to reach the parents of about 400 more. Officials said that they expect to recommend vaccination for a few of the girls they have yet to contact.

Girls should not be concerned if they did not see any bats and slept under the mosquito netting provided by the Girl Scouts, said David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Health Department.

The 20 campers considered at risk are receiving treatment, which consists of six to nine injections administered over a month. None of the girls reported being bitten, and none of the five bats caught and tested by the department was found to carry the rabies virus.

After media reports of the incident, parents of five other girls planned to go ahead with the shots, even though health officials said the girls were safe.

Camp Potomac Woods is one of three residential camps operated by the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital, all of which are in rural parts of Virginia .

The rabies investigation began in mid-July after a parent reported to the Girl Scouts that her daughter had noticed bats living in the eaves of her open-air cabin at the camp.

In the camp's 50 years, no child is known to have contracted rabies from exposure to bats there, Girl Scout officials said.

Still, to be safe, health officials recommended the shots for those girls most likely to have come in contact with a bat. They sent letters to the parents of all 950 girls who stayed at the camp this summer.

In addition, the Girl Scout Council decided to screen in the rustic cabins at its three overnight camps and four day camps.

At the request of Girl Scout officials, many troop leaders and parents have declined to speak about the incident. But some parents said privately that they believe the county Health Department overreacted. For decades, girls have been going to Potomac Woods and camps like it to experience the wilderness, which always carries some risk, they said. , Raccoons and other animals that roam the woods can carry rabies, they said.

Bats cause most rabies cases in humans, and the illness is fatal if treatment does not begin before symptoms appear. Health officials said rabies scares generally occur when it is not known who might have been exposed. In this case, Goodfriend said, officials were fortunate to have all the girls' names and addresses.

"We're purposely being overcautious because rabies is something to be overcautious about," he said, "but also because we're dealing with children, and we want to really make sure they're safe."

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