Linda and Richard Belanger of West Bath stand outside their Campbell Pond Road home, where a fox attacked Richard Wednesday morning. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

WEST BATH — A West Bath man was bitten by a fox at his home on Campbell Pond Road Wednesday in the latest in a string of attacks by foxes believed to be rabid over the past year.

So far, there are no plans by local, state or federal agencies to try to combat the rabies outbreak among the fox population.

Last week, the Maine Rabies Workgroup met in Augusta and decided the best course of action to address the increase in rabid animal cases is to continue educating the public, vaccinating pets and making populated areas less inviting to wildlife.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture spread more than 300,000 rabies vaccine baits in Maine to stem the spread of rabies in raccoons, mostly in northern Maine. Baiting has not been tried in the southern Midcoast, where the number of rabies cases began climbing in 2018. That year, Brunswick saw 9 confirmed cases of rabies, the most out of any municipality in Maine, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

Rachel Fiske, an assistant state veterinarian in the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and rabies workgroup member, said distributing vaccine baits in Bath would be “cost-prohibitive and ineffective.”

Fiske said the vaccine baits dropped in northern Maine specifically target raccoons. Out of Bath’s 16 confirmed cases of rabies thus far, seven were grey foxes and three were raccoons.

“We don’t know if a fox would take the bait or if it’d be effective,” said Fiske. “We don’t know enough to move forward with a bait process (in the Midcoast).”

She added that vaccinating a small area would have no effect on the animal population as a whole because of the way animals repopulate and migrate.

According to Bath city spokeswoman Lindsey Goudreau, Bath needs the state’s approval to bait or trap. She said the state has not told Bath city officials how much it would cost to drop vaccine baits in Bath and the surrounding area.

Bath is planning another public information panel about what residents can do to protect themselves and their pets from rabid animals in March, when foxes become more active. The date for that forum hasn’t been announced.

‘ … IT CAME AFTER ME … .’

Linda and Richard Belanger were at their West Bath home when they saw a fox attacking their daughter’s dog at around 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

Richard Belanger, 71, ran out of his house in his socks but no shoes and pulled the fox off the dog, “and then it came after me and bit me on the foot right here,” he said, pointing to the top of his right foot. “I grabbed him by the neck and got him on the ground.”

Richard Belanger fell onto his back but never let go of the fox. He yelled for his wife to get a knife from the kitchen and stabbed the animal, which didn’t kill it.

He said he was able to hold the fox down for 10 minutes before the town’s animal control officer Todd Stead arrived and shot the animal, wounding it. Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Thibeault then arrived and killed the animal, which was taken to the Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory in Augusta for rabies testing.

Belanger was taken to Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick where he was treated for rabies exposure, including injections to his wounded foot, arms and thighs. The dog received a rabies booster as a precaution.

An avid hunter who is used to being around animals, Belanger said Wednesday he wasn’t upset by the encounter. The injections, he said, were the worst part.

Belanger is the third person attacked by a fox in West Bath this year.

Police on Jan. 5 killed a fox that attacked a man on Moose Trail Drive in West Bath, hours after an attack on another man. That animal tested positive for rabies.

Deputies killed a fox that was acting strange on State Road on Jan. 21. Stead said that animals also tested positive for rabies.

Stead said this is the 11th potentially rabid fox he’s dealt with since September 2019.

MIDCOAST RABIES

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

Statewide, 89 wild animals tested positive for rabies in 2019. There were at least seven reported cases of foxes attacking people in the southern Midcoast last year.

Bath saw 16 confirmed cases of rabies last year, more than any other municipality in Maine.

Earlier this month, 88-year-old Norman Kenney of Bath was attacked by a rabid fox in his yard. It was the second time Kenney was attacked by a fox in four months. The retired Bath fire chief was knocked to the ground, receiving bites on his face and hands. He was previously attacked in September, as was another man on Middle Street.

In December, a fox attacked three men in separate incidents near Fisher Mitchell School in Bath one morning, biting at their legs. A fox believed to be rabid was later shot and killed by police.

In November, a rabid grey fox that attacked a 52-year-old Bath man in his backyard on Washington Street.

Bath’s former city clerk, Mary Howe, resigned that same month to focus on recovering from injuries she suffered while running away from a fox in her yard in Brunswick earlier in the year.

In August, a 6-year-old girl was bitten by a rabid fox on Bumpy Hill Road in Bath when the family dog came to the rescue.

DIFFICULT TO PREDICT

State wildlife biologist Scott Lindsay said in an email earlier this month that it is difficult to predict the longevity of a wildlife rabies cluster in a particular area.

Few mammals in Maine actually hibernate, and red and gray foxes remain active throughout the winter. Still, Lindsay believes the spread of rabies among mammals active in the winter will drop.

“It does not cease, but likely does decline,” he said. “For those individual animals in the latter stages of a rabies infection, the winter climate adds yet another challenge for them.”

Richard Belanger recounts the battle he had with a fox that attacked him at his West Bath home Wednesday morning. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

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