A domestic dog has been infected with rabies for the first time in Maine in nearly a decade.
The dog was reported to animal control in Kennebec County after likely encountering a rabid raccoon, said state epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears.
“The dog started acting fairly aggressive and actually bit the owner,” he said.
The dog became ill and died shortly thereafter, and the owner was treated for exposure to the rabies virus, Sears said. There were no records indicating the dog had been vaccinated recently, he said.
State rabies testing records show the virus was confirmed in a dog in Albion on Aug. 1.
Testing by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the dog was infected with a strain of rabies commonly carried by raccoons, Sears said.
Rabies 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.
The virus is more typically found in wild animals; the last time a domestic dog was infected with rabies in Maine was in 2003. So far this year, 72 animals in the state have tested positive for the virus, mostly raccoons and skunks.
State officials warned in February that Maine was recording an alarmingly high number of rabid animals, likely because the lack of significant winter snowfall enabled infected wildlife to come in greater contact with one another and with pets and livestock.
One domestic cat and one feral cat also have been found to carry the disease this year, Sears said.
“People tend to be a little less likely to vaccinate their cats, although they’re high-risk animals because they have nocturnal behaviors,” he said.
Health officials have launched a campaign to prevent the spread of rabies in honor of World Rabies Day on Sept. 28. Mainers are urged to vaccinate their pets as required by law, avoid contact with wild and unfamiliar animals, and “bat-proof” their homes by plugging or covering openings where bats can enter.
Maine hasn’t recorded a human case of rabies since 1937, though many people have been treated for potential exposure to the virus, Sears said. Treatment for rabies involves a four-dose vaccine and a shot of globulin, which provides antibodies to prevent rabies infection.
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. 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.
Anyone exposed to rabies is advised to wash the wound with water, contact the local animal control officer and seek medical care.
To report rabies exposure, call the Maine CDC at 800-821-5821.