Health officials urge caution as rabies cases rise in Maine

There have already been nearly as many cases this year as all of last year
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 10:55 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WMTW) - The Maine Center for Disease Control says there has been a rise in the number of animals in Maine testing positive for rabies.

Between January and May of this year, the Maine CDC confirmed 30 cases of rabies, including 12 in Cumberland County. These cases were in raccoons, skunks, bats, a fox, and a woodchuck.

In 2022, there were just 35 confirmed cases for the entire year in Maine. There were 71 cases confirmed in Maine in 2020 and 89 in 2018.

Rabies is a virus that infects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Rabies spreads when infected animals bite, and in some cases scratch, other animals or humans. All mammals can get rabies, but raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats are the most common animals to test positive for rabies in Maine. The rabies virus does not spread in blood, urine, feces, skunk spray, or dried saliva.

A rabid animal may show a variety of symptoms or no symptoms at all. Once symptoms develop, rabies is almost always fatal. The Maine CDC says timely post-exposure treatment can prevent disease in people; a rabies vaccination is required for all pet cats and dogs of a certain age in Maine and offers the best protection against rabies.

The Maine CDC urges everyone to take these steps to protect yourself and your animals against rabies:

  • Keep your pet’s rabies vaccination up to date
  • Feed pets indoors
  • Keep garbage cans or other sources of food tightly secured
  • Do not feed, touch, or adopt wild animals
  • Be cautious of stray dogs and cats. If you spot a stray cat or dog, contact your local animal control officer
  • Do not move wildlife. This can spread rabies into new areas
  • Wash bite or scratch wounds thoroughly with soap and water for 10-15 minutes and contact your health care provider

If an animal bites or scratches you, contact your health care provider. If an animal bites or scratches your pet or livestock, contact your veterinarian. Click here to learn more.