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Pepper Spray, don't leave your Bath home without it!!

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In Bath rabies outbreak, state says to carry pepper spray, make property ‘less inviting’ to animals

 

By Kathleen O'Brien Times RecordDecember 18, 2019

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Michelle Walsh (from left), a state veterinarian, Rachel Keefe, a state epidemiologist, and Scott Lindsay, a regional biologist, answer questions from the public regarding rabies and what people can do to protect themselves against rabid animals. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

 

BATH — On edge after a series of attacks by rabid animals in recent months, Bath residents aired their concerns and called for action during a forum Tuesday, but state health officials said there’s no way to vaccinate wild animals in a singular town.

 

According to a Dec. 12 report from the Maine CDC, Bath has seen 15 confirmed cases of rabies, more than any other municipality in the state. Statewide, 87 wild animals have tested positive for rabies this year. There have been at least seven reported cases of foxes attacking people within the city this year.

 

“We’d love to have an answer to explain why Sagadahoc County has seen a record amount of (rabies) cases, but we can’t explain that,” Michelle Walsh, a state veterinarian, said in Bath’s public rabies forum Tuesday evening. “It’s probably due to a number of factors.”

 

Walsh said animal populations naturally fluctuate based on the weather and food sources, and the spread of rabies will slow naturally as the temperature drops and animals become less active.

Rabies is a viral disease that infects the nervous system of mammals, making the infected animal unusually aggressive. It is transmitted primarily through bites and exposure to saliva or spinal fluid from an infected animal. Vaccines are 100 percent effective combating the disease in humans who are exposed to the virus. Rabies is fatal if left untreated.

 

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture drops oral rabies vaccine baits by air and ground every year in northeastern Maine to stem the spread of raccoon rabies, the department said it has no plans to distribute baits in the Midcoast.

 

USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said before it can move its oral rabies vaccination zone to encompass the Midcoast, the USDA must eliminate rabies in the northeast part of Maine. Spot treating Bath for an outbreak would not be effective and it’s cost-prohibitive to drop the baits statewide, Espinosa added.

 

Bath resident Mike Vogl, whose partner was attacked by a fox outside their home, said he, “would like to see more of an effort to look at the federal vaccine program.

“Some policy-maker has the power to do that,” Vogl said.

 

Walsh said the federal vaccination program is not available to singular Maine municipalities because of a lack of funding. She said vaccinating a small area would have no effect on the animal population as a whole because of the way animals repopulate and migrate.

 

“It’s not an approach that’s typically taken in a suburban area,” said Walsh. “That’s a federal effort. The state supports it but the funding isn’t there at the state level for us to consider it at this point.”

Scott Lindsay, a regional wildlife biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said animals that most commonly test positive for rabies, such as raccoons, foxes and skunks, naturally live near humans because they provide food sources like trash and serve as protection from larger predators such as coyotes.

 

Because of this, Rachel Keefe, an epidemiologist from the Maine CDC, said the best defense against rabid animals is to vaccinate pets, call animal control if you see an animal showing signs of illness, and avoid feeding the animals.

 

Lindsay added residents should, “make your property less inviting to wild animals,” by removing bird feeders, as they attract smaller rodents which foxes prey on, and sealing garages and sheds.

 

Lindsay advised residents to carry something to defend themselves when walking outside in the event they’re charged by an animal.

 

“Do what you can to avoid contact (with the animal) but if contact is imminent, you want to be aggressive back and do whatever you can,” said Lindsay. “Pepper spray does not do permanent damage to wildlife but it will stop them very effectively.”

 

Some residents are worried for children who walk to and from school and are accustomed to spending time outdoors without concern.

 

“I’m worried about my kids,” said David Strelneck. “They should be able to run around outside and play with their friends, that’s what Bath is. I’m not going to arm my kid with pepper spray.”

Tuesday’s meeting came the day after three men were attacked by a fox that was believed to be rabid near the Fisher Mitchell elementary school.

 

The first man was walking to work on Middle Street near Bath Iron Works at around 6:45 a.m. when the fox bit his pant leg, according to Bath Animal Control Officer Ann Harford. The man kicked the fox and it ran off.

 

Later Monday morning, a second man working in his yard near where the first attack happened was attacked. The animal nipped at the man’s legs, but he fought it off with a stick. He was treated for rabies exposure at a hospital, according to police.

 

At around 1 p.m., Bath police received a report of a fox trying to bite a man outside his house on Libby Court, which is about 1,200 feet from the school and near the area of the previous sightings. The man called police who found the fox and shot it, killing it.

 

That fox will be brought to the Department of Health and Human Services lab to be tested for rabies.

 

In August a 6-year-old girl was bitten by a rabid fox on Bumpy Hill Road and an 87-year-old man was attacked by a fox on Getchell Street in September. On Nov. 3, a 52-year-old man was knocked over and bitten by a rabid fox and pinned against his home while in his backyard on Washington Street.

 

“As winter approaches and animals enter hibernation, it is expected that rabies cases in the city will subside naturally,” the city said in a statement sent out to residents last month.

The number of rabies cases drops in the winter when animals are less active, but hibernation doesn’t eradicate the disease, according to Lindsay.

 

“Raccoons and foxes don’t go into full hibernation, but they’re less likely to transmit the disease to other animals because they’re less active,” said Lindsay. “Come May, there can still be some cases of rabies. There will always be some presence of rabies in Maine.”

 

Bath officials have asked residents to report any animal acting strangely to police immediately. Rabid animals typically approach humans without fear, are unsteady on their feet, and drool excessively. A rabid animal will die within 10 days of contracting the virus, according to Keefe.

 

“If there’s an animal that’s showing signs of illness, we want to take it out of the population,” said Evan Franklin, a state game warden.

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Between these animals and the guy who killed the guy in Scarborough and attacked someone in Bath, it isn't a place on my bucket list to tour.   

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I moved from Massachusetts back to my home state, NH, 23 years ago... and our first New Years day was punctuated by gun fire. Although I had made made it out of the inner city by moving north, two rabid skunks were fighting in broad daylight  in our neighbors´ bloodied driveway, when our local PD had to intervene.  A year later, we called the PD when we saw a raccoon stumbling around our backyard - again, in broad daylight.  I now convinced of  the important role that our carrion birds (vultures) play in controlling the spread of rabies.  Years later, I was surprised to learn seals can be carriers of rabies. I  fished the NH /Maine backchannels at night from my kayak and occasionally heard the heavy breathing of a seal following me from New Castle to Pepperrell Cove and out to Whaleback Lighthouse.  

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