BATH — Former Bath City Clerk Mary Howe resigned Friday to focus on recovering from injuries she suffered while running away from a fox in her yard in Brunswick.

Howe underwent surgery on her broken leg and will need surgery on her hip as well, prompting her decision to resign from her post.

“Because recovery time will be three to six months, I felt that it was only fair to resign and concentrate on healing,” said Howe.

The attack happened in September.

“I went out the door to go to the grocery store, and when I turned around the fox was at the end of the front steps staring at me with a mouthful of porcupine quills,” said Howe.

Foxes don’t normally approach people or attack porcupines. When they do, it’s a common indicator that the animal is rabid, according to Scott Lindsay, a regional wildlife biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Howe hit the fox with her purse and tried to run away, but tripped on a rock and broke her femur — also called the thigh bone.

Her husband came out into the yard after he heard Howe shouting, and repeatedly kicked the fox to scare it away. After several attempts to fend off the animal, he shot and killed it.

“There was obviously something wrong with it because foxes don’t behave like that,” Howe said.

The fox was never tested for rabies because neither she nor her husband were bitten or scratched. If Howe wanted the animal to be tested, she would’ve had to send it to a laboratory herself and pay $150. Howe called animal control and was told to bury the animal.

Rabies is a viral disease that infects the nervous system of mammals, making the infected animal unusually aggressive. It is transmitted primarily through bites and exposure to saliva or spinal fluid from an infected animal.

If untreated, it is fatal in humans and animals.

Howe’s fox attack joins a lengthy list in the Midcoast in recent months.

In Bath, a rabid fox attacked a 6-year-old girl in early August, a 52-year old man earlier this month, and retired Bath Fire Chief Norman Kenney, 87, in early September.

There have been 15 confirmed rabies cases in Bath alone, the most of any Maine municipality. In the past year, Bath has seen five rabid grey foxes, four rabid skunks, three rabid raccoons, one rabid red fox, and one rabid bat.

Brunswick has had two reported cases of rabies, both in raccoons, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of 82 wild animals have tested positive for rabies statewide this year, according to the CDC.

Treatment rates for rabies have been higher than average for a second year at Mid Coast Hospital. For the past decade, the hospital’s emergency department has treated between 10 and 30 patients annually for rabies exposure. In 2018, the department treated more than 50 people for rabies exposure. So far this year, the department has seen 40 to 50 people in the emergency room with rabies concerns and 37 of them received immunoglobulin, according to Dr. Ranjiv Advani, the medical director of the Mid Coast Hospital Emergency Department.

Ann Harford, Bath’s animal control officer of 28 years, told The Times Record she has dealt with rabies spikes before, hasn’t seen as many attacks on humans as she’s seen in this outbreak. She said she believes this uptick in attacks is because foxes, which are faster than skunks or raccoons, are contracting the virus.

This summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture planned to spread more than 300,000 rabies vaccine baits in northern Maine. There were no plans to bait areas in the Midcoast, and wildlife officials have said they must stop the spread of rabies in northern Maine before tackling points south.

“As winter approaches and animals enter hibernation, it is expected that rabies cases in the city will subside naturally,” the city’s said in a statement sent out to residents earlier this month. “In the meantime, city officials are coordinating with the state on next steps and ask residents to be vigilant of their surroundings and report unusual animal behavior.”

“Something’s going on here,” said Howe. “Hopefully winter will end it and we can start with a clean slate in the spring.”

Lindsay said the number of rabies cases drops in the winter when animals are less active, but hibernation doesn’t eradicate the disease.

“Racoons and foxes don’t go into full hibernation, but they’re less likely to transmit the disease to other animals because they’re less active,” said Lindsay. “Come May, there can still be some cases of rabies. There will always be some presence of rabies in Maine.”

Bath officials have asked residents to report any animal acting strangely to police immediately. Rabid animals typically approach humans without fear, are unsteady on their feet, and drool excessively.

If someone is exposed to rabies, seek immediate medical attention, as the rabies vaccination is 100 percent effective if it’s administered in time.

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