Bath councilors have formed a new rabies committee to contact surrounding towns to discuss a regional approach to tackling rabies, but some councilors disagree on what that regional approach should look like .
Bath and some surrounding communities have been trying to tackle rabies after a series of attacks on people and domestic animals by rabid foxes in the area in recent years.
At a City Council meeting in January, Councilor Elisabeth Dingley said she believed the task of the new committee was to “convince” leaders of surrounding towns to join Bath in carrying out an oral vaccination program against rabies, but other advisers say a wildlife vaccination campaign might not be realistic. Solution.
“What I’ve read is that (oral rabies vaccination programs) are not recommended for urban and suburban areas,” Councilor Mary Ellen Bell told the meeting. “I didn’t see the evidence saying (an oral rabies vaccination program) is the thing we should be doing.”
The United States Department of Agriculture is dropping fishmeal bait carrying raccoon rabies vaccine in northeastern Maine to prevent rabies from spreading to Canada. It’s a multi-million dollar, multi-year project that doesn’t lead to massive rabies immunity in a target area.
City Council Speaker Aaron Park said the new committee’s goal is not to “advocate for an agenda” but rather “to explore what other communities are doing and if they are interested in moving forward with it.” before with a (vaccine) program like this, although its effectiveness is unclear.
The new committee is made up of councilors Dingley, Bell and Roo Dunn; three residents; City Manager Marc Meyers; Lindsey Goudreau, Marketing and Communications Specialist, and Jim McKnight, Animal Control Officer. The committee has yet to meet or determine which three community members will join the group.
“Since the previous committee did the work of collecting the data that we needed, now we need to look at how to implement the oral rabies vaccination program,” Dingley told The Times Record. “We will have to involve the surrounding communities because this is not just a Bath affair, it is a regional affair. If they need convincing, I’m happy to do that job. I’m sure once they look at the data and see how serious this is and how much it puts the lives of citizens in the area at risk, they won’t need to be convinced.
The new Bath Committee was set up after the city’s first Rabies Committee achieved its goal of researching whether an oral rabies vaccination program is a viable option for Bath. This committee then disbanded.
According to Meyers, the original rabies committee also held pet vaccination clinics and published public education materials informing residents of ways to discourage wild animals from approaching their homes, such as by ensuring that compost bins have secure lids.
USDA public affairs specialist Tanya Espinosa said oral rabies vaccination programs would be both ineffective and costly if used in individual urban communities like Bath.
“It’s more effective to use (oral rabies vaccines) at a landscape scale to create a barrier than to ‘spot treat’ small, localized areas in response to an outbreak,” Espinosa said. “Urban areas remain a significant challenge for rabies management due to high animal populations and the influence of human behaviors such as wildlife feeding.”
At an August 2021 city council meeting, former councilwoman Raye Leonard told the council that a vaccination program like what is being done in northern Maine would take three to five years and cost $150,000 per month. year.
Additionally, Espinosa said the vaccine baits used in the program are only approved for certain species. In the eastern United States, the primary target of the vaccination program is raccoons, not foxes – the animal responsible for attacking more than a dozen residents in 2019.
Rabies in Bath
In 2019, Bath received 72 calls from suspicious animals. A total of 26 sick animals were killed by officers or citizens, and 16 animals tested positive for rabies in 2019, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The city has also seen 18 fox attacks on people or pets, 11 of which resulted in someone being bitten or scratched.
Rabies is transmitted primarily through bites and exposure to saliva or cerebrospinal fluid from an infected animal. It infects the nervous system of mammals, making the infected animal unusually aggressive. Vaccines are 100% effective in fighting the disease in humans, but rabies is fatal if left untreated.
In an attempt to stop the attacks, the city council voted in February 2020 to partner with the USDA to conduct a trapping program, which cost $26,611. The program was designed to reduce the density of animal species likely to carry rabies, including gray fox, red fox, skunk and raccoon, to eliminate the risk of human interaction and the wild animal.
During the 10-day program, 24 raccoons and four skunks were captured and euthanized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, according to the program report. All wild animals caught in the traps were euthanized as the rabies test requires brain tissue from the animal.
Dingley said Bath’s decision to run the trapping program instead of exploring a vaccination option is what prompted her to run for city council. Dingley said his goal is to lead the city in conducting a long-term rabies vaccination program.
“The rabies problem in the Midcoast area is something I’ve spent a lot of time and research on,” Dingley said. “My goal is definitely to get that under control. We talked about alternatives, but it is a virus and it reacts to vaccines. If you are bitten by a rabid animal and develop symptoms of rabies, it is invariably fatal. I think people need to start taking this a little more seriously.
Rabies cases in check in Bath
Police Chief Andrew Booth said the rabid animals in Bath appear to have all but disappeared over the past two years.
In 2021, Bath Police received four calls about suspected rabid animals: two foxes and two bats. Police could not find one fox when they responded, and the other had mange, but was otherwise healthy. Both bats were captured and sent to be tested for rabies, but neither tested positive.
Police have received no calls of suspected sick wildlife so far this year, Booth said.
“Rabies has been in Maine and it will continue to be in Maine. It’s rampant in the area and it comes in waves, we’re just in a lull right now,” Booth said. “We like to think that it has taken its course through the region. People are still afraid of it, but we don’t see it on the ground.
Booth said the last Bath resident to be attacked by a rabid fox was retired Bath Fire Chief Norman Kenney in January 2020.
In 2021, Phippsburg had a bat and a gray fox testing positive for rabies on January 22 and September 27, respectively, according to USDA data. Topsham had two gray foxes and a skunk test positive for rabies in September.
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