BATH, Maine — A deadly altercation between a terrier and a woodchuck on Saturday was confirmed as the city’s first case of rabies this year, according to the Bath Police Department.
According to the Maine Centers for Disease Control, there has been an uptick of reported rabies cases in 2012, which State Epidemiologist Stephen Sears attributes to a warm winter that caused more animals to be more active earlier.
A resident of High Street in the Bath’s north end reported the family dog attacked and killed a woodchuck that had entered the yard. The woodchuck had not been seen acting strangely, which is a sign an animal might be affected with rabies, but based on the owner’s statement that it is unusual for the dog to kill animals, Bath Animal Control Officer Ann Harford decided to have the dead woodchuck tested.
The woodchuck was taken to the Maine Health and Environmental Testing Lab, where it tested positive for rabies. The dog’s rabies vaccination was current but it will receive a rabies booster and will be kept under observation for 45 days, according to Bath Police Chief Michael Field.
Field urged residents to keep their pets’ vaccinations current and to use extreme caution when handling a pet that was wounded in a fight with a wild animal, including the use of waterproof gloves while washing or caring for the animal.
Field also warned against approaching any wildlife that appears to be sick or acting strangely and to contact the Bath Police Department at 443-5563 with any questions or concerns.
Sears echoed that advice.
“Let wild animals be wild,” he said. “If you see an injured or sick animal you should leave it alone. We get phone calls every single day about rabies exposures.”
Sears said the majority of reported rabies exposures come from the southern two-thirds of the state. Though the weather has nothing to do with the number of wild animals who contract rabies, a warmer winter does cause them to be more active, which results in more reported cases. Sears said there were 11 cases reported in January 2012, compared with a single case last January.
The rabies virus is spread when infected animals bite or scratch a person or another animal. The virus also can be spread if saliva or tissue from the brain or spinal cord touches broken skin or gets into the mouth, nose or eyes. The most common wild animals to carry rabies are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes.
Rabies in humans and pets is treatable with prompt and aggressive medical care. For information, Sears recommends calling a local animal control officer or the CDC at 800-821-5821.