Informational signs about rabies were posted recently on Warren Avenue in Gardiner after health officials detected the virus in a kitten in Gardiner and in a gray fox. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — Even as Maine’s public health agency is issuing an advisory about bats and rabies, instances of the viral disease in other animals are being reported in central Maine.

On July 18, a rare case of rabies was reported in a kitten in Gardiner, prompting officials to post a warning sign in the vicinity of a known cat colony.

Cliff Daigle, animal control officer for several towns, including West Gardiner, said a property owner shot and killed a gray fox that later tested positive for rabies.

Rabies is a viral disease that lives in the saliva, brain and spinal cord of infected animals. While it can infect any animal with hair, rabies in Maine is most often found in raccoons, red foxes, gray foxes, skunks and bats.

Tegwin Taylor, a wildlife health biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, said an uptick in reported rabies cases occurs during summer months in Maine and across the United States because people and animals are active outdoors.

In addition to the cases in Gardiner and West Gardiner, the only report of a rabid animal in Kennebec County came in late March when rabies was found in a skunk in Augusta.


The case of a kitten with rabies in Gardiner is rare, accounting for the only such case involving cats so far this year in Maine. Over the past 10 years, there have been just seven reported cases of rabies involving cats in Maine, or 1.1% of 621 reported cases, according to state data.

In an advisory issued in June, the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention said across the state, there were early signs of an active animal rabies season. Through the first five months of 2023, 30 animals had tested positive for rabies. During the same period a year ago, the total was 11.

“We had a bunch of cases in February and March, but we had a fairly mild winter,” Taylor said, noting that reports have dropped off in the months that followed. “When we don’t have a big winter that kills off a lot of stuff, sometimes those viruses are maintained more easily than during a harsh winter.”

Over the past decade, the number of reported rabies cases annually has ranged from 30 to 90, she said, but the total is commonly between 60 and 70.

Many of the cases have been reported in Cumberland County, where the opportunity for interactions between humans and wildlife are greater because more people live there, Taylor said.

The state wildlife department maintains a page on its website with information on how to deal with orphaned, sick or injured wildlife, including how to identify sick animals and when to seek help. While it is normal behavior for wildlife to travel around, feed or hunt in full view — day or night — when people are around, it is not normal for animals to spin in circles, fall over, foam at the mouth or exhibit aggression toward people, domestic animals or other objects.


In its advisory issued last week, the Maine CDC noted that as of July 24, six bats had tested positive this year for rabies. Two cases were reported in Albany Township in Oxford County, and one case each was reported in Lewiston, Palmyra, Standish and Topsham.

Last year, the state CDC reported, bats made up 45% of the 458 animals sent to the state laboratory for rabies testing. Of those, only four tested positive. The Maine CDC also maintains its own rabies webpage.

If exposure is suspected, the Maine CDC advises immediately washing the bite or scratch with soap and warm water for 10 to 15 minutes, and contacting a health care provider.

If rabies is suspected, a series of shots over the course of a few weeks can be given, beginning within 10 days of the exposure. In many cases, the shots can wait until lab results come back on the tested animal, if it has been captured.

Officials suggest trying to capture the bat — while wearing thick gloves, and if it can be done safely — and holding the animal in a closed container. The bat can be taken by an animal control officer or a game warden to the Maine Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory. If the bat tests positive for rabies, a Maine CDC epidemiologist will follow up.

In general, the same safety recommendations apply every year, Taylor said.

“People need to be aware of what’s happening around them. Give wildlife their space. And certainly vaccinate your pets,” she said. “That’s the primary way to prevent not only your pets but you from getting exposed.”

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