Maryland health officials say the state leads the nation in reports of rabies cases following confirmation that a raccoon killed in Howard County last weekend was rabid. Dr. Kenneth Crawford, chief of the division of veterinary medicine of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the case marks the northernmost point where the disease has been found.

"The Baltimore metropolitan area will have a problem . . . that could last as long as five years," Crawford said. Since 1982, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has assigned a doctor to Baltimore to monitor the state's incidence of rabies cases.

Since Jan. 1, a total of 468 cases has been confirmed in the Free State, far exceeding the 152 cases recorded for all of 1982, Crawford said. No one has died of rabies this year in Maryland, but several persons have undergone treatment, he said.

By way of comparison, neighboring Virginia has recorded 361 cases, while West Virginia has had 75 and Pennsylvania 60, according to Crawford's office. The doctor said most cases of rabies this year involved raccoons.

Crawford said parents should urge children not to touch animals they do not know. He stressed the need for pets to be vaccinated, and emphasized that anyone bitten by an animal should seek immediate medical attention.