DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD Betty McNally of Brunswick shares her family’s experience with a rabid bat found in her daughter’s Bowdoin home in April.

BRUNSWICK

Brunswick residents asked rabies panelists Thursday when the rabies cases will go away.

State experts provided a lot of information about rabies prevention, symptoms and treatment – but couldn’t say for sure when residents no longer have to be concerned.

“This has actually been a pretty normal year in terms of the number of rabies cases in the state,” said Michele Welsh, the state veterinarian. “I’m sure it doesn’t feel normal to Brunswick but we can talk more about that in a bit.”

The cases of rabies drop off as animals begin to hibernate. They spread as mammals have more contact with other animals during mating season, and then as they are raising young, panelists said.

Brunswick Animal Control Officer Heidi Nelson organized the event after four people were attacked by a fox on Moody Road July 27, and a rabid raccoon was found dead on Range Road that same weekend.

DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD Sarah Morgan of Brunswick said her family did nothing to invite a fox attack on Moody Road July 27 and asked rabies panelists Thursday what residents are supposed to do to stay safe.

Sarah Morgan’s daughter was bitten that day on Moody Road.

“I’m wondering when the narrative changed,” she said. “I remember getting a robo call saying there’s a rabies epidemic in Brunswick and it seemed like panic. And then my daughter’s attacked and I hear, ‘Don’t panic. Just respect wildlife.’”

Morgan said her family hadn’t done anything to invite the attack. The fox charged out of the woods.

“Given that information, what do you do because I’m going to be honest, I don’t want my kids out in the yard because I don’t feel like this is over,” she said.

Maine Wildlife Biologist Scott Lindsay said fox, raccoon and skunk have always been here, but populations fluctuate from year to year, sometimes based on the food supply. When there are more of these animals, there’s a greater opportunity of rabies exposure from animal to animal.

“You’re in a place where there’s a larger human population,” he said. “It’s simply going to be, again, a greater chance of exposure between an animal and yourself.”

While Morgan’s family wasn’t inviting interaction with the fox, “there are an awful lot of people in our communities who put out food for foxes; who put out food for other wild animals and it is really something that we strongly discourage,” Walsh said.

The message was echoed by Grant Connors of Brunswick. An animal damage control agent licensed by the state, he removes wild animals from people’s property. A retired teacher and a conservationist, he said rabies is a way nature controls populations.

“The truth of the matter is, we are our own worst enemies here,” he said. “If you really want to deal with the problem yourself, stop feeding the birds.”

DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD State veternarian Michele Walsh explains why baiting, the distribution of oral rabies vaccination to keep the virus from spreading into Canada, would not work in an urban area.

Walsh said many have asked why the oral rabies vaccination “baiting” dropped by plane in northern Maine isn’t being used in the Brunswick area.

“The reason is that it’s not effective in an urban area really,” she said.

It is designed to create a barrier from preventing rabies in Maine from spreading north. It’s an expensive process in part because there are huge land masses effected by this disease, according to Walsh.

Nelson also raised awareness Thursday about bats, which can easily get into older homes especially. An estimated 1 percent of bats carry rabies. Nelson said this week she has taken seven bats to the state lab for testing after residents have woken to find bats flying around their heads. Six of those tested already were negative for rabies.

It illustrated the need to vaccinate inside cats too, as required by law.

“Your cats may not go outside but unfortunately wildlife will come inside periodically,” Nelson said.

A bats teeth are so small, so their bite may be undetectable.

Betty McNally of Brunswick said her family knows firsthand the danger of bats.

Her daughter lives in Bowdoin and called the house one morning in April asking if her father could help with the bat in her house.

The bat was caught, and tested positive for rabies. Her daughter and husband had bites on their hand and her grandson may have been exposed. All three had to receive rabies treatment at Mid Coast Hospital.

“Three members of my family went through a really scary situation. Don’t say it doesn’t happen,” she said. “You cannot appreciate what it feels like until it happens to you.”

She praised the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance after the incident, but pointed out the treatment can be very expensive. The shots can cost $2,000 to $5,000 according to Walsh, but McNally said it cost her family $11,000 each. Luckily their insurance helped significantly.

“We are talking a huge amount of money, not to mention the fear of what has happened to your family,” she said.

Walsh said most of the information shared Thursday is available in the Maine Rabies Management Guidelines.

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