Brunswick-area residents are being warned to steer clear of wild animals acting oddly after six separate fox attacks within the past six weeks.
Several foxes have been confirmed rabid. In the meantime, several state agencies are collaborating on a plan to target raccoons by distributing more than 350,000 baits laced with oral rabies vaccine throughout northern and eastern Maine.
On Friday afternoon Brunswick police officers were responding to the sixth fox attack in the region in as many weeks. A woman told officers that she and her child had been bitten by a fox that had subsequently run off into the woods. Later that day, another resident on the same road reported that a fox had attacked his dog.
While the number of concentrated fox attacks in Brunswick stand out, state veterinarian Dr. Michele Walsh says reports of rabid animals in the state are coming in at about the same rate that they typically do.
"It's actually a pretty average year for the incidents of rabies, the numbers of rabies-positive cases that we have this year," Walsh said.
Even so, the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will be working with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to distribute 351,000 baits containing an oral rabies vaccine. The goal is to target raccoons over a 2,400-square mile area throughout Aroostook County and parts of Penobscot County. The effort is geared toward reducing the number of incidents of raccoon rabies along the Canadian border.
Wildlife Biologist Scott Lindsay says the so-called pulse exposures of rabies incidents, such as those reported in the Brunswick, could recur at a later time.
"That is something that we do see, these pulses, and then it seems as though as the wildlife population in that area is going to decline, since many of them do die,” says Lindsay. “I would say at that point, there's less potential exposure between animals, and that incidents locally can subside and then you might see it pick up again in another area or even in the same area again several years from now.”
Wildlife officials say they plan to distribute the raccoon baits by air and vehicle over the next several weeks. Humans or pets cannot get rabies from contact with the bait, and the Maine Center for Disease Control says that dogs who consume large numbers of the vaccine-laden baits may develop an upset stomach, but will not experience any long-term health risks.