Scott Lindsay, left, a regional wildlife biologist with the Inland Fish and Wildlife, fielded questions about rabies wildlife trapping Bath residents alongside Peter Owen, Bath’s city manager, and a team of wildlife biologists from the USDA Thursday evening. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — Bath City Council on Monday will review their decision to trap and kill wildlife as a means to combat a rabies outbreak that resulted in 18 fox attacks over the past year.

That meeting was scheduled prior to a forum with wildlife biologists held Thursday, in which residents objected to the trapping plan.

Last month, the city council decided unanimously to partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to trap rabies-carrying species — such as gray and red foxes, skunks and raccoons — in the area hit by the rabies virus over the past 13 months.

The traps are not supposed to be lethal or harm the animal, but every fox, skunk and raccoon caught in the traps will be euthanized. This is because it is impossible to confirm whether an animal is infected with rabies while it is alive because brain tissue needs to be tested.

An animal can be rabid without showing symptoms, according to Rachel Keefe, a state epidemiologist. Once an animal starts displaying symptoms, it will die within 10 days.

According to Bath City Manager Peter Owen, the Maine Center for Disease Control confirmed 16 cases of rabies in Bath in 2019, compared to two in 2018 and none between 2015 and 2017. That represents an increase in rabies of more than 700% from 2018 to 2019.

The city’s trapping plan is opposed by a Facebook group led by local artist kdb Dominguez. Dominguez created an online petition calling for the cancelation of the plan to euthanize the animals caught. The petition, which was 13 signatures short of its 1,000-signature goal as of Thursday, called the city to consider other mitigation options, such as vaccines.

Most residents Thursday said they would prefer to vaccinate wild animals rather than trap and euthanize wildlife.

“This is not a south end problem or a north end problem … it’s a Bath problem and we need to solve this as a city because we need to keep our kids, parents and senior citizens safe,” said Pat Coldwell of Bath. “The only way to do that is through an oral vaccine program.”

“We need to put this plan on hold and gather more information we kill animals that may or may not be sick,” said Carol Huntington of Bath. “We’ve been asked to be stewards of God’s creatures.”

Richard Chipman, a wildlife biologist and national rabies management coordinator for the USDA, said the oral rabies vaccine program is a long-duration program intended for areas of more than 25 miles. Bath is about 13-square-miles in size.

There is only one licensed oral rabies vaccine, which treats rabies in raccoons. The recent rabies attacks in the Bath area have involved foxes, not raccoons.

The USDA airdrops fishmeal baits carrying raccoon rabies vaccinations in northern Maine to keep rabies from spreading north. It’s a multi-year, multi-million dollar project that still only results in about one-third of animals in the area gaining immunity to rabies.

“Vaccine by oral rabies baiting program was reviewed, but not considered as a viable option due to several factors,” said Owen. “The only option that was presented to us as something that could be done immediately was trapping.”

Bath’s proposed trapping process, which will cost $26,611, is scheduled to take place over 10 days before the end of this month.

Scott Lindsay, a regional wildlife biologist at IF&W, said the vaccination method “sounds like a great idea, but it’s not considered a viable option.”

“If you put (the vaccine baits) inside a town … it’s not considered effective because animals surrounding the area you’re targeting are going to move back in,” Lindsay said.

Rabies is 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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