Maine CDC Press Release

September 11, 2007

World Focuses on Rabies Awareness

For more information, please contact:
Dr. Don Hoenig, State Veterinarian at: 287-3701 or donald.e.hoenig@maine.gov

In 2006, a group of professionals who have devoted their careers to rabies prevention formed the Alliance for Rabies Control, a UK registered charity. This group has been active in its outreach, with its goal of raising awareness about rabies and to support funding toward its control and prevention.

Last Saturday, the first World Rabies Day was celebrated. Events took place around the world focus the spotlight on this disease, which in 100 percent preventable in humans. In many parts of the world, however, preventative measures are often neglected. Human deaths are largely ignored and uncounted but a conservative estimate of the annual global human disease burden is 55,000. Rabies has a consistent and startling case fatality rate of 100 percent and the majority of victims are children.

Rabies in Maine is undergoing a resurgence in the past two years, with confirmed cases doubling from 2005 to 2006 (61 vs. 127) and 56 cases reported through Aug. 21 of this year. Every interaction with a rabid animal is unsettling, stressful and oftentimes expensive. A recent case involving a rabid cat on a dairy farm in Waldo County resulted in the exposure (and subsequent post-exposure treatment) of four farm workers; the necessity to euthanize a large number of exposed feral cats; and the vaccination of over 300 cows. The average cost of post-exposure treatment for people is $1,500. Currently, a number of farms have animals under quarantine or observation for rabies after a rabid animal was found on their property and numerous pets in Maine are also under quarantine or observation after being exposed to a rabid animal.

Dr. Don Hoenig, State Veterinarian with the Maine Department of Agriculture, reports that rabies inquiries from citizens and veterinarians in Maine have increased significantly in the past year. “Keeping animals current on their rabies vaccinations is the crucial step in preventing rabies in domestic animals and is protecting their owners. In the case of livestock, there are approved vaccines for cattle, horses and sheep”, says Dr. Hoenig.

Dr. Dora Ann Mills, Medical Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention urges people to keep a distance from any unknown animal. “Any animal bite, scratch, or other saliva exposure should be treated as a potential rabies exposure that requires immediate action. Wild animals should be captured and tested for rabies at the State Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory in Augusta; domestic animals should be quarantined.”

Since 2003, Maine has participated in a regional effort to limit the northward and eastward spread of the North American raccoon strain of rabies through the use of an oral rabies vaccine (ORV) bait. (The furthest north that rabies has been detected so far in Maine was a skunk in the town of Sherman earlier this year). Maine’s participation in this regional initiative is a designed as a limited research project.

In an effort to curtail the movement of raccoon rabies, states in the Northeast and provinces of Eastern Canada have undertaken a multi-year program to deliver baits containing vaccine to raccoons. Raccoons consume the baits and are vaccinated against raccoon rabies. The product has been used in North America since 1989. As a result, raccoon rabies has been substantially reduced within vaccinated areas in Florida, New York and New Jersey. Oral rabies vaccine barrier zones have restricted viral advance in Massachusetts (Cape Cod), Vermont, Ohio and New York.

This year, the Maine ORV zone is a part of the National Rabies Management Program, which involves 15 states along the eastern United States and the Appalachian Ridge in an effort to contain rabies and prevent further spread across the US and north into Canada. During August, approximately 1.5 million rabies vaccines will be distributed in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York by USDA APHIS WS and cooperating agencies to help prevent the northward spread into Canada. Approximately 50,000 baits were distributed in Maine by aircraft in early August in a zone just south and east of Houlton.

No human cases of rabies have been reported in Maine since 1934, when a man became infected after being attacked by a rabid dog.

Questions on rabies in Maine may be directed to Dr. Don Hoenig, State Veterinarian at: 287-3701 or donald.e.hoenig@maine.gov

The latest information on confirmed cases of rabies in Maine can be found at: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/etl/rabies/rabies.htm

To find a veterinarian in your area, please contact the Maine Veterinary Medical Association at: http://www.mainevma.org/home.htm

More information on World Rabies Day can be found at: http://www.worldrabiesday.org/index_en.php