Maine sees spike in rabid animals due to mild winter weather

By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff
Posted Feb. 03, 2012, at 2:52 p.m.

Maine has recorded an alarmingly high number of rabid animals this year, likely the result of an unusually warm winter that’s prompting skunks, raccoons and other wildlife to roam more freely, according to state officials.

With the recent addition of two rabid foxes found in a York County neighborhood, the state confirmed 11 cases of rabies in January, compared with just one in the same month last year. Three of those cases resulted in exposure to humans, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

This year’s cases also occurred in Knox, Lincoln, Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec and Oxford counties.

The lack of significant snowfall this winter may be enabling infected animals to come in greater contact with each other and with pets, livestock and humans, according to state veterinarian Dr. Don Hoenig.

“Make sure your pets are vaccinated,” he said. “Avoid any contact with wild animals, especially wild animals that are acting in unpredictable ways.”

Maine averages about 65 cases of rabies each year.

The rabies virus is spread through a bite or scratch from an infected animal or when saliva or tissue from the animal’s brain or spinal cord gets into the eyes, nose, mouth or an open wound.

Being in an infected animal’s vicinity or, for example, petting a dog or cat carrying the virus will not lead to infection, according to State Epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears.

“Unless [a person] has a direct exposure, they’re not going to get the disease,” he said.

The most common rabies carriers in the wild are raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. Domestic animals also carry the disease — one cat was infected last month, and two sheep and one horse tested positive for the virus last year.

In 2011, 143 people in Maine received treatment for rabies. Most were only suspected of exposure to the virus, as authorities can’t always capture and test the animals involved, especially with rabid bats.

Symptoms can take anywhere from three weeks to a year to appear, Sears said. Because onset of the disease can last several days, treatment need not immediately follow a bite or scratch from a rabid animal to be effective, he said.

Anyone exposed to rabies should wash the wound with water, contact the local animal control officer and seek medical care, Sears said. Treatment for rabies involves a four-dose vaccine and a shot of globulin, which provides antibodies to prevent rabies infection, he said.

To report rabies exposure, call the Maine CDC at 800-821-5821.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/02/03/health/maine-sees-spike-in-rabid-animals-due-to-mild-winter-weather/ printed on April 20, 2014