August 1, 2013

Lab tests show attacking S. Portland fox did have rabies

By Karen Antonacci kantonacci@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The gray fox that attacked five people near Clark's Pond and the Maine Mall on Tuesday was infected with rabies, laboratory tests confirmed Wednesday.

In one of the attacks, the fox jumped through the open window of a truck to bite a man who was parked outside The Home Depot store.

It was finally captured and killed around 12:30 p.m. after chasing a man into a Western Avenue office building, where he and his wife have an acupuncture business. An animal control officer captured the fox and a police officer later took the animal into the woods and shot it.

The attack victims had scratches and bites, although none of the wounds was severe, South Portland police Lt. Todd Bernard said. All those who came in contact with the animal were told they needed medical treatment to prevent a potentially deadly rabies infection.

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

Because the fox tested positive, the five people who came into contact with the animal will be contacted and told to get an injection of Human Rabies Immune Globulin if they haven't already, said Dr. Stephen Sears, the state epidemiologist.

Since the start of the year, 30 animals have tested positive for rabies in Maine, according to data compiled by the state Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory.

This is the first gray fox that has tested positive this year. Gray and red foxes are different species -- gray foxes are typically smaller and have red fur only on their legs and belly. Three red foxes have tested positive for rabies so far this year, one each in Chester, Oxford and Windham.

The number of animals that have tested positive is down from this time last year. By the start of August 2012, there had been 59 cases of rabid animals statewide, five of them foxes. There have been five confirmed cases of rabies in animals in Cumberland County this year, down from nine in 2012.

Sears said he typically sees more rabies cases in the summer than in the winter.

Karen Antonacci can be contacted at 791-6377 or at:

kantonacci@pressherald.com

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