CARIBOU, Maine — While the U.S. Department of Agriculture is distributing oral rabies vaccine baits in Aroostook County this week, it is only a preventive measure and is not the result of increased cases of rabies in the region, State Epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears said Tuesday.
There have been three reported cases of rabies in animals in The County this year and fewer than 50 statewide, which is “not that high” and not above normal, Sears said.
The three documented cases in Aroostook this year — a skunk and two raccoons found in Sherman Mills — bring the total to eight for The County in the last three years, he said.
Since January this year, 46 cases of rabies have been documented statewide, with 10 in Cumberland, eight in Kennebec and six in Androscoggin counties. No other county has more than three reported cases and five counties — Franklin, Waldo, Washington, Piscataquis and Sagadahoc — don’t have any.
Last week, a Brunswick man said he was attacked by a raccoon that climbed the stairs to get at him, biting his leg and hand. He told a local newspaper that he is receiving shots because the animal tested positive for rabies.
“There was a growth in cases [statewide] several years ago,” Sears said Tuesday. “But the numbers now are normal.”
On Monday, Wildlife Services, a program within the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, began distributing oral rabies vaccine baits in Aroostook County. The distribution, expected to wrap up Thursday, is part of an ongoing cooperative rabies control effort aimed at reducing raccoon rabies.
This is the eighth annual distribution of the vaccine, Sears noted.
“This is not taking place because we have seen a lot of rabies cases in that area,” he said. “This will reduce the presence of rabies in northern Maine and Canada.”
Rabies, an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals, is normally transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms are present, although timely post-exposure treatment is effective in preventing the disease in humans.
In cooperation with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, 125,000 oral rabies vaccination baits targeting raccoons are being distributed by aerial and ground methods over a 900 square mile area.
The area includes the towns of Caribou, Presque Isle, Fort Fairfield, Ashland and Mapleton. While vaccines are being distributed by air in rural areas, personnel from Wildlife Services will be distributing vaccine baits from vehicles in the populated areas of Caribou, Presque Isle, Fort Fairfield and Ashland.
Since 2003, Wildlife Services has been working to eliminate raccoon rabies from northern Maine, because the virus poses a threat to human and animal health. The organization continues to cooperate with officials in New Brunswick and Quebec, Canada, in an effort to reduce the presence of rabies across northern Maine and Canada.
No new cases of rabies in “terrestrial mammals” such as foxes, raccoons and skunks, have been documented in New Brunswick since 2002 or in Quebec during 2010, according to state officials.
Oral rabies vaccination baits are coated with a fishmeal attractant and may be packaged in 1-inch square cubes or 2-inch plastic sachets. Humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the baits, but are asked to leave them undisturbed should they encounter them.
Anyone who comes into contact with ORV baits should immediately rinse the contact area with warm soap and water. This vaccine has been shown to be safe in more than 60 different species of animals, including domestic dogs and cats.
To help protect yourself and your pet against rabies:
• Keep pets’ rabies vaccination current.
• Feed pets indoors.
• Keep garbage cans or other sources of food tightly secured.
• Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals, and be cautious of stray dogs and cats.
• Do not move raccoons or other wildlife from one area to another, because this can spread rabies into new areas.
Contact the Wildlife Services at 1–866–487–3297 to report dead or suspicious-acting raccoons, skunks, fox or coyotes.
Signs suggesting rabies infection in animals include unusual, aggressive or calm and “friendly” behavior, an inability to eat or drink, balance problems, circling, seizures, coma and finally death.
If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and contact your health care provider and the Maine CDC at 1-800-821-5821 for advice.
For additional information concerning the raccoon oral rabies vaccine program, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/oral_rabies/index.shtml or contact Wildlife Services toll-free at 1–866–487–3297.