The Star-Herald

First rabies this year

Two dogs have been quarantined for 45 days and a family member in Cary Plantation recently has had to go through the painful shot process after a run-in with a raccoon.

According to Katie Spencer, manager of media relations for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, it is the first confirmed case of rabies in Aroostook County for 2018. Statewide, however, that number is much higher.  

Rabies is a disease that is caused by a virus. It affects the brain and spinal cord and can cause death if left untreated.  Rabies in people is very rare in the United States, but rabies in animals — especially wildlife — is common in most parts of the country, including Maine.

“We are seeing slightly higher numbers of confirmed rabid animals, with 12 rabid animals so far this year (as of April 10),” Spencer said. “Our epidemiologists investigate every positive animal tested at the Maine Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory and make recommendations as appropriate for any exposed individuals and domestic animals.”

Maine has been beset with rabies cases among wild animals and pets during the past two years. In 2015, 33 cases were reported statewide, compared to 76 cases in 2016 and 67 last year.

“If someone suspects a wild animal is rabid, they should call a Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife game warden,” said Spencer. “If it is a domestic animal, the individual should notify the town Animal Control Officer.”

She noted, “Rabies can present in different ways, so it is important to understand that not every rabid animal is ‘foaming at the mouth.’ Any behavior that seems inconsistent with what would be expected, including overly aggressive behavior or lack of fear of humans, is cause for concern. If there are concerns about suspected rabid animals, the responders should be called.”

If a person or a domestic animal has possibly been exposed, call Maine CDC at 1-800-821-5821 for consultation.  

“They should visit a veterinarian for appropriate follow-up and notify the Animal Control Officer,” Spencer said. “Depending on whether the pet has been previously vaccinated against rabies, follow-up may be different.”

How is rabies spread? The rabies virus lives in the saliva, brain and spinal cord (neural tissue) of infected animals. It is spread when a rabid animal bites or scratches a person or animal, or if a rabid animal’s saliva or neural tissue comes in contact with a person or animal’s mouth, nose or eyes, or enters a cut in the skin.  Rabies is not spread by petting or touching dried saliva, blood, urine, or feces of a rabid animal.

What is a rabies exposure? A rabies exposure happens when the saliva or neural tissue of a rabid animal comes in contact with a person or animal through a bite or scratch, cut in the skin, or gets into the eyes, nose, or mouth.

What animals can carry rabies?  In Maine, the most commonly infected animals are skunks, raccoons, bats, and foxes. Rabies can infect any animal that has hair, but is very rare among small rodents like squirrels, rats, mice, and chipmunks.

Keeping your pet up to date with a rabies shot is so important.  Next week we will have some tips on what to do if you or your pet has been in contact with a rabid animal.   For additional information, visit: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/zoonotic/rabies/

The Central Aroostook Humane Society shelter hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closing for lunch from 12 to 12:30.

Gloria J. Towle is the secretary and a member of the Board of Directors of the Central Aroostook Humane Society.

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