Rabies

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What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral infection that affects mammals and is most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. Rabies is also transmitted through direct contact of mucous membranes with saliva or brain/nervous tissue from an infected animal. The virus travels through the nerves and spinal cord to the brain, where it multiplies, causing inflammation of the brain. Vaccines are extremely effective when medical treatment is sought soon after being exposed to an infected animal, however rabies is fatal if left untreated.

What are the signs of rabies in animals?

Symptoms of rabies can vary and are not always typical, and usually go undetected until the virus has reached the brain. An infected animal may exhibit abnormal behavior such as excitability, self-mutilation, lack of fear, or excessive aggression. Other signs include loss of coordination, paralysis, difficulty breathing, excess salivation, and difficulty swallowing.

Most wildlife species are shy and typically avoid people. However, seeing a wild animal in your yard or on your property during the day is not cause for alarm. Take a moment to observe the animal from a safe distance to determine if it’s behaving normally. If the animal sticks around, is there anything in your yard or neighborhood that may be attracting the animal (such as a bird feeder, livestock, pet food, trash, etc.)? If so, clean it up and the animal will most likely move on to another area.

Foxes commonly live in close proximity to people and may forage more during the day in summer when they are raising their pups. Young wild animals also may be out during the day as they explore their new world and may appear curious. If a wild animal approaches you, make noise and give the animal a chance to move away. In the rare case that the animal continues to approach you, pick up a stick or anything else to defend yourself if you cannot get to shelter. Seeing a wild animal with porcupine quills on its face and acting aggressive toward you or your pet may indicate that the animal has rabies. It may be difficult to determine if an animal has been injured or is sick, so never approach or touch wildlife.

What should I do if I suspect an animal in my neighborhood has rabies?

If you have been bit or scratched by a wild animal, contact a Maine Game Warden or the State Police. An official will respond as rapidly as possible and carry out the necessary functions to protect people, capture or euthanize a wild animal, and ensure that proper handling and testing is performed.

Contact the nearest State Police Dispatch Center:

Augusta: 1-800-452-4664
Bangor: 1-800-432-7381
Houlton: 1-800-924-2261

What animals can get rabies and what species can carry rabies?

Any mammal, including humans and domesticated animals such as livestock, dogs, and cats, can carry and transmit rabies. The primary carriers of the rabies virus are racoon, skunk, and fox. Bats are also considered high risk because their bites are so small that they may easily go undetected. To learn more about rabies vectors species and rabies surveillance in the U.S, visit the CDC website.

How can wildlife be tested for rabies?

In order to test wildlife for rabies, the animal needs to be dispatched by a trained professional. Once the animal has been euthanized, tissues from two locations of the brain will be collected for testing.

Rabies and Humans

How can I protect myself from rabies?

Ensure your pets are up to date with their rabies vaccination. Always avoid contact with wildlife and work to limit contact between your domesticated animals and wild animals.

What should I do if I am bitten by an animal or exposed to the saliva of a possibly rabid animal?

If you are bitten, immediately wash the area with soap and water. If possible, try to identify the species and capture the animal for testing. Do not do damage to the head of the animal, as the brain is required for testing. Call a local game warden or ADC Agent to safely secure and dispatch the animal. Notify your doctor immediately. While testing options exist for humans, no single test is sufficient. Receiving the vaccine within the first couple of days of possible exposure significantly increases the chances of avoiding transmission and infection.

What are the symptoms of rabies in humans?

Symptoms will not appear until the virus has reached the spinal cord and brain, and usually begin to appear two weeks to two months after transmission. Symptoms may be similar to the flu in its early stages, but progresses to anxiety, confusions, hallucinations, and insomnia.

What do I do if my pet is exposed?

Thankfully, our pets are required to receive a rabies preventative shot every few years, limiting the chances of transmission to your pet. If your animal is exposed, immediately wash the bitten area with soap and water. If possible, try to identify the species and capture the animal for testing. Do not do damage to the head of the animal, as the brain is required for testing. Call a local game warden or ADC Agent to safely secure and dispatch the animal and contact your animals’ vet.

What’s the status of rabies in Maine and what is MDIFW doing about it?

98% of rabies cases reported occur in wildlife, and death in humans is extremely rare, only one or two people die each year in the United States from rabies (CDC). Rabies is fatal if left untreated, but vaccines are extremely effective when medical treatment is sought soon after being exposed to an infected animal. It is common for an influx of rabies to occur during certain times of the year when wildlife is seeking food or shelter in populated areas, causing more human-wildlife conflict. Trends in the number of rabies-positive animal has been similar over the last 10 years in Maine. The risk of encountering an animal with rabies is still very low. Learn more about Maine’s surveillance of rabies.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife provides education and outreach to prevent wildlife conflicts and strives to maintain healthy wildlife populations through trapping and hunting which limits disease transmission among the population. Local biologists and game wardens work to encourage people to remove attractants in their yards and assists in capture, relocations and dispatching of wildlife when necessary. To learn more about living with wildlife, visit mefishwildlife.com/livingwithwildlife.  

Rabies and Bats 

What do I do if I find a bat inside my home?

If a bat is found in a room with a (1) sleeping person, (2) young child, handicapped or intoxicated person, or (3) person has touched or been bitten by a bat, then the bat must be sent to the Health lab for rabies testing.

Contact Maine Warden Service for help by calling the nearest State Police Dispatch Center:

Augusta 1-800-452-4664
Bangor 1-800-432-7381
Houlton 1-800-924-2261

If a bat is found in a living space and not suspected of having contact with people or pets, bat should be released outdoors. For the safety of both people and bats, never directly touch a bat. Confine the bat to one room, open windows, and watch the bat exit. Alternatively, hire an Animal Damage Control Agent to assist with getting the bat outdoors. Contact your Regional Wildlife Biologist who can recommend an agent experienced with bats.

If a person is unsure whether there has been potential contact between a bat and person, you can call Maine CDC for consultation at 1-800-821-5821.

What do I do if I find a bat outside on the ground?

If a bat is found on the ground, a person should leave the bat where they found it. People should not attempt to capture or care for bats themselves for several important reasons, including the risk of exposing themselves and their household to rabies, the low chance to successfully meet the specialized needs of bats, and possessing wildlife is illegal without the proper permit or license.

What do I do if my pet had a bat in its mouth?

Contact your veterinarian to determine whether the bat should be submitted for rabies testing.

What if a dead bat is found on a barn floor with horses or other livestock?

Contact Maine Warden Service for help by calling the nearest State Police Dispatch Center:

Augusta 1-800-452-4664
Bangor 1-800-432-7381
Houlton 1-800-924-2261

For general questions about livestock exposure, contact Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (207-287-3701).

I think I might have bats living in my attic, what can I do?

Try to confirm that bats are in your attic by looking for an accumulation of droppings or staining where they exit a building. Do you hear bats squeaking near dusk or during warm days? Contact your Regional Wildlife Biologist who can recommend an Animal Damage Control agent who is qualified in bat removal. Sealing off entry holes and installation of exclusion devices, like one-way doors, work well to allow bats to exit but not return to the inside of a building. We recommend avoiding mid-May through mid-August to fully exclude bats, to prevent trapping the flightless young bats inside.  Also, consider installing a bat house in your yard prior to exclusion, to provide alternative roosting habitat for displaced bats.

Rabies Resources

Maine Rabies Management Guidelines
Rabies – Maine CDC