May 14, 2010

Raccoon tests positive for rabies

Dog was bitten

VASSALBORO -- A raccoon that tangled with a dog on Priest Road has tested positive for rabies.

Animal Control Officer Howard Morang said a dog was bitten by the raccoon.

Rabies is a viral disease of the central nervous system that is almost always fatal, according to the Maine Health and Environmental Testing laboratory. Rabies can infect any mammal, but it is most common among bats, skunks, foxes and raccoons.

"The dog chased the raccoon and they got into a squabble," Morang said Wednesday. "The guy hit (the raccon) on the side of the head and was able to kill it. We took it to the lab and it tested positive. We got the results in (Tuesday) afternoon."

Morang said the pet will be in close confinement for 45 days under the watchful eye of its owner, Kelly Johnston. The dog is current with all it shots and had a booster on Tuesday, Morang said.

Johnston could not be reached for comment.

Morang, who also is the animal control officer for Windsor, Chelsea, Randolph, Pittston, Hallowell and Manchester, said he's posted warnings throughout the town of Vassalboro.

"People just need to know it's here and it's here to stay, I guess," he said. "It's not leaving. This is a little bit early, but the weather has been different this year. The mothers and babies are coming out a little earlier and the warmer weather has a lot to do with that."

He said usually rabies reports don't come in until the end of May and into June.

Anyone in the municipalities under his charge who suspects a wild animal is rabid should call Morang at 452-4664; elsewhere, call Maine State Police at 1-800-452-4664.

If your pet has been bitten or scratched by an animal that you think might be rabid, follow the same steps and notify your veterinarian.

Rabid animals usually behave abnormally, but signs vary. Some may appear shy and fearful, others become aggressive, and some may simply stumble as though drunk or lame.

Donald Hoenig, state veterinarian, said he believes so far this has been an average year for rabies.

"I get the impression this year isn't any different," Hoenig said. "I looked at how many cases we've had so far this year and it's 21 as of May 4, which is average. Most of those have been raccoons."

The state saw a spike in rabies in 2006, but he said some of those reports were in the winter.

Hoenig said people must ensure their dogs and cats are up to date with their vaccinations.

Approved vaccines also are available for horses, cattle and sheep, he said.

"Stay away from wild animals acting in an unusual manner," he said. "If a raccoon is out in the middle of the day and it approaches you, or a fox is acting lethargic and coming towards your rather than running away, avoid all contact and call your animal control officer."

He said Maine has two strains of rabies, North American raccoon strain and bat rabies.

"We urge people to exercise caution around bats," he said. "They do a lot of good, but they need to be left alone."

For advice on rabies, call the Maine Center for Disease Control at 287-8016 or the public health hotline at 1- 800-821-5821.

Mechele Cooper -- 623-3811, ext. 408

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