BATH — After Bath saw 14 cases of rabies this year, more than any other municipality in Maine, the city issued a warning to residents to steer clear of animals acting strangely until winter comes.

The statement urged residents not to feed wild animals, to vaccinate pets and ensure all compost is disposed of in a secure container.

In the past year, Bath has seen five rabid grey foxes, four rabid skunks, three rabid raccoons, one rabid red fox, and one rabid bat.

A total of 87 wild animals have tested positive for rabies statewide this year, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most recent case of rabies in Bath was reported by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Nov. 8 after a 52-year-old man was attacked by a rabid fox on Nov. 5.

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.

“We are currently coordinating with the state on available options to address rabies within the city,” said Peter Owen, Bath’s city manager.

As winter approaches, the city expects the rabies cases to subside as animals hibernate, according to the statement.

Treatment rates for rabies have been higher than average for a second year at Mid Coast Hospital. For the past decade, the hospital’s emergency department has treated between 10 and 30 patients annually for rabies exposure. In 2018, the department treated more than 50 people for rabies exposure. So far this year, the department has seen 40 to 50 people in the emergency room with rabies concerns and 37 of them received immunoglobulin, according to Dr. Ranjiv Advani, the medical director of the Mid Coast Hospital Emergency Department.

Ann Harford, Bath’s animal control officer of 28 years, told a Times Record reporter she has dealt with spikes in rabies in animals before, but never as many animal attacks on humans as in this outbreak. She said believes this uptick in attacks is because foxes, which are faster than skunks or raccoons, are contracting the virus.

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 the department is working to eradicate rabies in the U.S. Eliminating rabies in the raccoon population is expected to take at least 30 years.

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

Bath officials 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.

If someone is exposed to rabies, seek immediate medical attention, as the rabies vaccination is 100 percent effective if it’s administered in time. Rabies is fatal if left untreated.

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