August 14, 2013

Bat that bit Cape Elizabeth man tests negative for rabies

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — A bat that bit a Cape Elizabeth man over the weekend has tested negative for rabies, a state official said late Tuesday afternoon.

The man, whom police declined to identify, called police to report that he had been bitten by the bat in his home in the Shore Road area of Cape Elizabeth around 9 a.m. Saturday.

"The bat was inside a washing machine," Cape Elizabeth public safety clerk Ed Hunt said. "The victim put his hand inside the washer, and he felt something bite him."

The man captured the bat afterward in a glass jar and turned it over to Patrolman Aaron Webster, Hunt said.

Police advised the man to consult a doctor. That is the advice they give anyone who finds a bat in a home, since bat bites may be difficult to detect, Hunt said.

South Portland Animal Control Officer Corey Hamilton, who also does work for the town of Cape Elizabeth, drove that bat and another one caught recently in South Portland to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Augusta to be tested for rabies on Tuesday.

The state epidemiologist, Dr. Stephen Sears, said lab test results for both bats came back negative for rabies.

Only three bats in Maine have tested positive for rabies this year, according to state records. All three were big brown bats, a common species in Maine. The first of those was found in Dover-Foxcroft on May 6, the second in Richmond on June 4 and the third in York on June 18.

Sears said rabies is fairly common in Maine. It most frequently is found in raccoons, followed by skunks, foxes and then bats.

"When there has been a potential exposure or a confirmed exposure, we bring it in to have it tested," Sears said.

Sears said most bats do not have rabies, and even among those tested, only about one-fourth to one-third test positive.

"Usually bats don't bite people, so if they do that's abnormal behavior for a bat," Sears said. "But the bat will also bite if it's scared."

State biologist John DePue, who specializes in small mammals, said his office has been inundated with phone calls about bats recently. Most of the calls are about young bats, who have no experience around humans.

"The young of the year are flying," DePue said. "They're not as experienced as adult bats are. When they get cornered, their last line of defense is to bite."

Rabies is a deadly virus that typically spreads when a diseased animal attacks another animal or person shortly before the infected animal dies. It can't be spread between people. Early signs of rabies in an animal are temperament changes, mild fever, self-mutilation at the bite site or a slow blink reflex.

Through mid-July, 30 animals had tested positive for rabies in Maine, according to state data.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at: 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@mainetoday.com

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