If you've been tuning into the news in the past few weeks, you may be aware of an older gentleman fending off a fox with nothing more than a shovel, or a woman who was attacked by an otter in the mid-coast area. Both of these animals tested positive for rabies, and those aren't the only two incidences being reported lately. These events took place right here in Maine, and if you're like me, you're a little concerned.
I remember learning about rabies from classic cartoons. I seem to recall a scenario where some poor unsuspecting dog would somehow end up with a foamy mouth, to which a certain devious duck or rabbit would start screaming, "Mad dog! Mad dog!" We're all familiar with the rabies virus and able to recognize the classic signs of a rabid animal - abnormal behavior, disorientation, aggression, and "foaming" at the mouth. But what exactly is the rabies virus?
Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system, spreading to the brain and spinal chord. It is transmitted by direct contact with saliva, neural fluids, or brain tissue. The most common way of contracting rabies is through a bite from an animal infected with rabies. Rabies can also be spread if these fluids come in contact with mucous membranes (eyes, nose, and mouth), or an open wound. Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning both humans and animals can be infected by it.
How Common is Rabies in Maine?
In 2017, 61 animals that tested positive for rabies. As of July 2018, there have been 28 confirmed cases of rabies, and the year is only half over. It seems like just in the last month or so, there's been a rise in stories about rabid animals attacking humans in the news. The data and news reports are convincing that the rabies virus is in Maine, but nothing is more eye opening than seeing it firsthand. A nice, Sunday morning walk turned into a nightmare when my childhood dog was attacked by a rabid raccoon not 200 yards from a populated neighborhood street in the middle of a southern Maine city park. This took place over 10 years ago, but it still made my family and I rethink entering into the woods unprotected and unaware.
How Can You Help Fight Rabies?
Since rabies is commonly found in wildlife, the best possible way to fight the spread of rabies is to make sure your pets are vaccinated. Luckily, my dog was current on his rabies vaccine, but he did have the rabies vaccine boostered while we waited for the test results on the raccoon from the state lab.
Did you know that it's Maine state law to vaccinate all cats and dogs for rabies? Animals who are primarily indoors are not exempt from this law. It is especially important for cats to be vaccinated for rabies since they are more likely to come in contact with wildlife due to their predatory instincts. Even indoor cats need to be vaccinated - wildlife can find their way inside your home. A bite wound of unknown origin from a wild animal can result in lengthy quarantines or possible euthanasia if your pet isn't vaccinated for rabies.
If you come across an animal that is potentially rabid, the best thing to do is to keep your distance and call your local animal control officer or game warden. Animals who are staggering, acting confused, or being aggressive are the ones you want to stay way from. Seeing a nocturnal animal outside during the day isn't always a sign of a rabid animal, but it's smart to still stay away.
If you want to learn more about rabies in Maine, including past and current testing data and rabies management guidelines, please visit the State of Maine website and search for rabies in the search bar. You can always give the folks at your friendly neighborhood veterinary clinic a call as well!