LEWISTON — Rabies cases have risen sharply in Maine, prompting the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Department of Agriculture to warn Mainers to be cautious around wild animals and to get their pets vaccinated. 

Eleven animals tested positive for rabies in January, up from just one positive case the same month last year.

Rabid animals have been reported in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford and York counties. Recently, two foxes tested positive in the same York County neighborhood.

Experts believe this winter’s warm weather and lack of snow may be to blame for the surge because wild animals can roam more freely than in winters past.

Rabies is spread when infected animals bite or scratch a person or another animal. The virus can also be spread if saliva or tissue from the brain or spinal cord touches broken skin or gets into the mouth, nose or eyes, according to the agriculture department.

The most common wild animals to carry rabies are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes.

In a statement Friday, Stephen Sears, state epidemiologist from the Maine CDC, issued a reminder for Mainers to avoid contact with wild animals, to keep their pets close to home and to make sure all pets are up to date on rabies vaccinations.

“By avoiding contact with wild animals and maintaining pet’s vaccination, we can prevent the spread of rabies,” he said. 

In humans, rabies is preventable with prompt medical care after exposure. For more information, contact your local animal control officer or the Maine CDC at 1-800-821-5821.

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