FRYEBURG — A dog that was euthanized Tuesday after biting a 5-year-old Brownfield boy in the face tested negative for rabies, according to Animal Control Officer Kathleen Hathaway.

The 7-year-old pit bull was the most recent of 51 animals tested for rabies this year, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those animals, four tested positive.

“Rabies is a big deal in the state of Maine,” said state epidemiologist Stephen Sears. “Every year, we have people who are exposed to animals with rabies.”

The viral disease, spread mainly though bites, attacks the central nervous system and almost always results in death. Aggression toward humans and other animals is a common symptom of rabies, especially in dogs, Sears said. 

The dog involved in Tuesday’s attack did not have an up-to-date rabies vaccination, and Hathaway said she did not know how long it had been since the dog was vaccinated.

In an email Friday, Lt. Michael McAllister of the Fryeburg Police Department said he believed the child was home and doing well.

Unfortunately, the prevalence and danger of the disease is often not fully appreciated until an incident like Tuesday’s brings it back into the public eye, Sears said.

The best way to reduce chances of exposure to rabies is to keep pets vaccinated, to limit unnecessary contact with wild animals, such as taking in a sick or wounded animal, and to contact animal control or the CDC if there is any suspicion someone may have been exposed to the disease.

In 2013, the state tested 576 animals for rabies, according to the annual rabies report compiled by the Maine CDC. 

The animals on the list include dogs, raccoons, bats, skunks and cats, but also horses, goats, a donkey and seven cows. 

Only 51 animals tested positive for the disease last year, and those positive results were limited to raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats. No domestic animal tested positive in 2013, according to the state’s report.

Rabies is especially prevalent in the southern third of the state. Since January, four animals have been tested in Androscoggin County, three in Franklin, five each in Oxford and Kennebec, seven in Cumberland, 10 in York and six in Penobscot.  

If a human is bitten by a wild animal, the animal is always tested for rabies, Sears said. For domestic pets, however, more variables go into the decision of whether to test, not least because testing for rabies requires sending the remains to be examined.

“A lot of people get bitten by dogs,” Sears said. “Not all of those dogs get tested. A lot of times, the bite is provoked or we know the animal’s (vaccination) status.”

Animal control officers and CDC officials use a specific formula to determine whether a dog will be tested. In the case of extremely violent dog attacks, the animal is often tested for rabies because it has already been euthanized, Sears said.

Even in cases where a dog is not put down, it is usually kept under observation by an animal control officer or veterinarian for 10 days, the length of time it takes rabies symptoms to show up, Sears said.

An out-of-date vaccination may still be able to prevent against rabies transmission, Sears said, but there is no way to know.

“Unless an animal is totally up to date, you have to be concerned about that animal’s potential for transmitting the disease,” Sears said.

Dogs are usually less likely to contract the disease because owners generally keep rabies vaccinations up to date, in accordance with state law, Sears said.

Cats, on the other hand, are less likely to be vaccinated, leading to a high number of tests for rabies, Sears said. In 2013, the state tested 125 cats, the second-highest category of animals tested after bats, with 145 tests.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: