A 27-year-old man became this week the first person in the District to be bitten by a raccoon suspected of being rabid, city officials said yesterday. The man was bitten when he tried to capture the raccoon on a playground in the Mount Pleasant area, according to the officials.
Authorities called on other persons who may have come in contact with the animal to seek treatment.
The bite victim, who was not immediately identified, has already begun receiving antirabies injections, according to Dr. James B. Thomas Jr., acting administrator of the city's preventive health services administration.
Rabies has been spreading rapidly among raccoons in the Washington area. It is almost always fatal to humans who do not receive the inoculations, which must begin soon after contact with an infected animal.
Dr. Ernest Hardaway II, the city's commissioner of health said the victim was on the playground near 16th and Lamont streets NW at 6 or 7 p.m. Tuesday, when he saw nearby children clustered around a raccoon. The man chased the children away from the animal, which then climbed a tree. The man climbed the tree, seized the animal, and reportedly placed it in a bag. At some point, according to Hardaway, the animal bit the man on the arm.
Although the raccoon escaped and so could not be tested, authorities said, its behavior indicates the possibility of rabies. Raccoons are nocturnal animals, not normally active during daylight. In addition, Thomas said, healthy raccoons cannot be readily caught.
According to Thomas, city officials learned only yesterday of the possibility that other persons may have come in contact with the raccoon. In addition to a bite, rabies may be transmitted through contact with the saliva of an infected animal.