BATH, Maine — This article has been corrected
The gym at Fisher Mitchell School in Bath was stuffed with residents concerned over the emergency rabies response proposal. It was an opportunity to shoot holes in the city's plan, but also a chance for a panel to squash misinformation.
Bath City Manager Peter Owens said the city has seen a 700 percent increase in rabid animal attacks between 2018 and 2019, and 18 attacks by foxes in the past 13 months. Owens addressed the crowd, and explained the rules for the question and answer portion, limiting speaking and then responding to three-minutes a piece.
Richard Chipman, the National Rabies Management Coordinator for the USDA, started with the nationwide response to preventing the spread of rabies and walked everyone through how different parts of the country control the deadly disease.
Cape Cod, for example, uses oral rabies vaccine bait stations in wooded areas. Parts of Aroostook County have distributed ORV with helicopters, both not viable options for the City of Bath and surrounding towns.
“Vaccination doesn’t happen quickly," said Chipman. "This is not the time of year for oral vaccination. The soonest we can probably get any type of oral vaccination on the ground in any state would be May."
Baited live traps will be placed in areas based on wildlife activity and with landowner permission. Raccoons, striped skunks, red and gray foxes will be euthanized and tested, other species caught will be released. "There is no other easy test. There is no other accurate test. You have to kill an animal to test for rabies.”
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist Scott Lindsay said animals observed to be nursing or pregnant will be released, and any pet will be turned over to animal control. If an owner can't be identified, local humane societies will place the animal up for adoption.
MDIFW's Director of Communications Mark Latti attended the meeting but did not sit on the panel.
"Trapping is a very effective tool to manage animal populations,” said Latti. "By reducing the number of animals in the area we’ll be able to reduce the likelihood of rabies being spread to other animals.”
Latti explained that the amount of ORV needed to control the area would not just be in Bath, but many surrounding areas. "The cost associated with that would be prohibitive for something that would be largely ineffective."
The public comment touched on trap sizes, orphaning animals, slow initial response before an emergency plan was enacted and eradication of animals.
Lindsay said the effort should be considered as a local population reduction and not an eradication to reduce the interaction between wildlife and people.
Rabies is deadly if left untreated, but vaccines and medical attention used after exposure to an infected animal are effective, according to MDIFW.
The City of Bath Rabies website can be found here
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