OLD ORCHARD BEACH — A rabid raccoon that tangled with a dog in Old Orchard beach Tuesday is the 48th animal to test positive for the fatal disease this year.

The Maine centers for Disease Control reports that rabies cases have remained fairly steady in recent years, with raccoons being the most common carriers the disease when it comes in contact with humans or pets.

The state will join in efforts around the globe to raise awareness about rabies with an observance of World Rabies Day next Tuesday. State health officials and the warden’s service will hold a news conference Tuesday t the State House.

“The message we would really like to impress on folks is to avoid wild animals,” said Dr. Stephen Sears, state epidemiologist. Anyone who does have contact with a wild animal behaving strangely, such as a nocturnal animal out during the daytime, should seek medical attention, he said.

Sears said that 23 of the positives tests this year have been raccoons. Besides raccoons, other animals that are commonly infected with rabies are skunk, fox and bats.

In 2007, there were 86 animals that tested positive, in 2008 it was 64 and in 2009 it was 56.

Cumberland County has had the most cases of rabid animals likely due to the  larger population, Sears said. That increases the environment for animals like raccoons and skunks which often feed on trash and other food sources generated by people. It also increases the likelihood of contact between rabid animals and people, he said.

The dog in Old orchard beach was up to date on its shots but has been quarantined as a precaution, Sears said.

Rabies is a disease caused by a virus which attacks the spinal cord and brain and can be fatal if untreated.