Authorities in New Jersey and Maryland are in a race against time to find a vacationing New Jersey woman who may have been bitten by a rabid cat while shopping at a Frederick County crafts store on New Year's Day.
Six persons have reported that they were bitten or scratched by the cat; they are among 25 persons who came in contact with the animal, officials said. Rabies virus, transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, is deadly in humans if untreated, except in extremely rare cases.
"We're getting more and more anxious" about the uncontacted woman, said Thomas Hagy, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Health. "Each day she goes without treatment, the risks increase that she will develop rabies."
The woman, who was traveling with her husband and daughter, was one of several patrons at the Smokehouse Country Crafts Store in Middletown when the cat wandered onto the property. Others who were exposed were area residents who handled the cat, officials said.
According to witnesses, the cat bit the woman on the foot, puncturing her lightweight leather shoe. "There's a chance the bite didn't penetrate the skin, but we don't want to take any chances," Hagy said.
The women told other witnesses she was from New Jersey, but little else is known about her besides her general description: She has light-brown, shoulder-length hair, is 5 feet 9 inches tall and wears glasses.
"Their full-size car was packed so we assume they were vacationing, but we don't know where they were going," Hagy said. Police have been checking gas stations to try to locate the couple, but are depending on publicity to find her, he said.
Rabies symptoms -- apprehension, fever, malaise, hydrophobia, convulsions and paralysis -- take as few as 12 days to develop.