Rabid skunk serves as a reminder to vaccinate pets

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By Erin Place

HARRISON—A recent case of rabies involving a skunk struck Harrison, prompting the town manager to remind residents to be vigilant when they and/or their animals are outdoors.

Game Warden Tony Gray, who covers the South Paris District and is the one who dealt with the case, said that the first week in September a skunk bit a dog and chased it into the house on Dillion Road, after which the owner shot the skunk and called the Maine Warden Service.

Harrison Town Manager George “Bud” Finch told selectmen what had happened at a meeting two weeks ago.

“As it turns out there’s no issues, everything is fine. It does show that rabies is in the area,” he said.

Rabies is a virus that affects the brain and spinal cord and causes death if it goes untreated, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control. Gray said that any mammal can contract rabies, including humans. The disease is most commonly transferred through saliva through bites and can be transferred through blood, he added. The Maine CDC website says that rabies can also be transferred through a scratch from an infected animal or if a rabid animal’s saliva or neural tissue enters a person or animal’s mouth, nose or eyes. The disease cannot be spread by petting or touching dried saliva, blood, urine or feces from a raid animal, the website says.

The most common animals to contract rabies in Maine are skunks, raccoons, bats and foxes. Gray said a good indication an animal has rabies is if it has porcupine quills in its face. Raccoons, skunks and hawks who test positive for the disease will often have the quills since in the later stages rabid animals are said to attack things they normally wouldn’t, including porcupines, humans and even cars.

“They don’t have to just act strangely,Gray said about rabid animals. “That’s not to say that just because you see a fox in the backyard during the day it’s sick. You can see a perfectly healthy animal during the day, especially spring and summer when they’re having their little ones.”

According to Gray, the Maine Warden Service is the go between for residents who are concerned about possible exposure to the disease and the CDC. If the animal (which usually is one the four aforementioned) is still alive when the wardens arrived, it will be killed. The CDC then decides if it meets the criteria for rabies testing and, if so, it’s sent to the Maine State Health and Environmental Lab in Augusta. If it arrives before 11 a.m., test results can be done the same day, he said. If it’s later in the day, then they’re usually available the next day or if an incident happens on a weekend, results will come in on Monday.

But sometimes, the animals are already dead when the warden arrives.

“It’s about 50/50. Half the time it’s still alive and half the time the homeowner has killed it themselves,” Gray said. “Sometimes it’s gone and we can’t find it and catch it.”

He gave some advice for those who think they’ve come across a rabid animal.

“Any time you suspect your animal has had a run in with a possibly sick animal or if the animal is still around, call us,” Gray said about the Maine Warden Service. “My advice is make sure your pets are up to date on their vaccinations and feeding them and watering them inside the house if possible.”

The CDC advises that humans and animals exposed to rabid animals should clean all wounds with soap and water for 10 to 15 minutes. If a human is suspected of being infected by a domestic animal, such as a cat or dog, the local animal control officer and health care provider should be called. A cat or dog will likely require a 10-day quarantine to rule out the disease.

If one’s pet comes in contact with a domestic animal that’s suspected of being infected, call the local animal control officer and a veterinarian. If the pet is fully vaccinated, there will likely be a 45-day observation period to rule out the disease, according to the CDC.

The Maine CDC’s website reports as of June 30, there have been no confirmed cases of rabies in Oxford County. But in Cumberland County, where Harrison is located, there have been four cases—two of which involved gray foxes—and does not including the most recent incident with a skunk.

There were 50 cases involving animals with rabies in 2013 for the entire state, the Maine CDC’s website said. They were reported in raccoons (20), skunks (19), fox (four) and bats (seven). Bat bites can be difficult to detect, so any human who comes in contact with a bat should contact his or her health care provider. The last reported case of rabies in a human in Maine was in 1937.

A rabies clinic will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8, at the Harrison Town Office, 20 Front St. It is open Harrison residents and nonresidents and is $10 per cat or dog. Pet owners should bring proof of prior rabies vaccination for their animal, otherwise the vaccination will only be valid for one year.

eplace@advertiserdemocrat.com