PHIPPSBURG — Although wildlife experts have predicted rabid animal attacks would decrease over the winter, there was yet another fox attack in the southern Midcoast Tuesday. The second such attack in as many weeks, a fox terrorized a Phippsburg neighborhood early Tuesday morning, attacking two people and multiple pets before it was caught by the town’s animal control officer.

This is the latest in a string of attacks in the region since last summer. At least 10 people have been attacked by fox in the past 13 months. Most of the attacks happened in Bath but there have been three fox attacks in West Bath already this year.

The attacks have spurred the Bath to consider hiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wildlife services to trap foxes in the southern end of the city to help reduce the fox population and cull the spread of rabies.

Lindsey Goudreau, Bath’s marketing and communication specialist, said the city council will discuss trapping options Wednesday, including estimated costs. Goudreau said the traps would not be lethal, to prevent accidents involving pets, but wild animals caught in the traps would be euthanized.

If there is public support for the trapping effort, the city wants to move forward as soon as possible. Goudreau said there is a small window of time for trapping now before foxes start reproducing from mid- to late-March or April. The city will also get a cost estimate for additional trapping in October.

“This is something that has not been done before, but we feel strongly as a city that we have to do something and we’ve exhausted our other options,” Goudreau said, “and it’s really come to this.”

The city plans to reach out to West Bath and Phippsburg to see if they want to participate in the trapping.

About 20 foxes have been killed by residents or police in Bath since January 2019, according to Goudreau. There were 16 wild animals that tested positive for rabies in 2019, the highest of any community in the state.

The latest fox attack was in a small fishing community near Sebasco Harbor in Phippsburg. A fox bit a 27-year-old woman who was walking to her car on Bakers Wharf Road, according to Cpl. Aaron Skolfield of the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office. He said she went to the hospital for treatment. Attempts to reach her Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Phippsburg animal control officer Norm Turner said what is believed to the same red fox attacked a man in the area on Ridge Road who used an ice scraper to fend off the fox.

“It went after a couple dogs, a cat, another dog and finally wound up at somebody’s house and I managed to get there before it left,” Turner said.

There was a rush to find the animal before local children had to leave for school, he said. Residents helping in the search were armed with guns or boards.

Turner found the fox, hit it with his catch pole, which stunned the animal long enough for Turner to get control of it. Turner held the fox in place until Skolfield arrive to shoot it. The fox had porcupine quills embedded in its face, a sign the animal was likely rabid because healthy foxes generally don’t attack porcupines.

Turner took the fox to a lab in Augusta for rabies tests. It would be the first rabies case in Phippsburg Turner can remember. There is a large population of foxes in the town, so he fears there will be more cases.

“A lot of critters are out early this year, ones I wouldn’t expect to see,” he said.

State wildlife biologist Scott Lindsay stated earlier this month that the spread of rabies among mammals active in the winter would drop. Foxes do not hibernate but their activity decreases.

Yet, attacks have continued in and around Bath.

Last month, three people were attacked in West Bath and an 88-year-old Bath man was attacked by a fox for the second time in four months.

In 2019 alone, Mid Coast Hospital treated 43 people for rabies exposure.

Shevenell Webb, a state wildlife biologist, attributed the continued rabies cases to the mild winter the Midcoast has experienced. Rabies clusters are all related to animal populations. A higher animal population poses a higher risk of disease and the spread of disease. It is difficult to trap foxes in an urban area like Bath and they have few predators.

“I think what we’re finding in the Bath-Brunswick area is they have a high population of people and a high population of wildlife,” she said, which results in more interaction between the two.

Webb said there has also been an influx of grey foxes in the area.

Oral rabies vaccinations have also been considered but are expensive and wouldn’t be effective in an urban area like Bath, Webb said. The USDA airdrops fishmeal baits carrying raccoon rabies vaccinations in northern Maine to keep rabies from spreading further north. It’s a multi-year, multi-million dollar project that still only results in about one-third of animals in the program area with immunity to rabies.

Rabies is a 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.

State wildlife experts have urged people to take measures to protect themselves, such as keeping an eye out for animals acting strangely, carrying a stick or pepper spray, and not leaving out food that could attract the animals.

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