Rabies is a virus found in the saliva, brain and spinal cord of infected mammals. Rabies is spread most commonly through a bite from an infected animal. Rabies can also be spread from transfer of infected tissue or saliva into an open wound or mucous membrane, such as eyes, nose and mouth. Rabies is not transmitted through urine, feces, blood or any bodily fluid other than spinal cord fluid and saliva.
Rabies is a very serious and fatal disease if not treated. Rabies kills approximately 55,000 people each year worldwide. Though the last human case of rabies in Maine was documented in 1937, rabies is still a public health concern in Maine. Due to the availability of rabies post-exposure treatment, many potential human rabies deaths have been avoided. In Maine, 81 people were recommended for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) in 2013. The best way to stay rabies-free is to avoid wildlife and any animal that you don’t know. Report all exposures to your healthcare provider or Maine CDC right away.
In 2013, the State of Maine diagnosed 51 cases of animal rabies at the Health Environmental Testing Laboratory (HETL). As of August 15, 2014, there were 26 animal rabies cases in 2014 diagnosed in the following species: raccoon, skunk, fox, cat, cow, and woodchuck. Rabies is endemic in wildlife in Maine. The majority of animal rabies cases occur in wildlife, including in raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats.
All Mainers are encouraged to consider ways in which they can prevent the spread of rabies. These include:
- Vaccinate your pet cats and dogs against rabies; it is the law.
- Avoid contact with wild animals or other animals that you do not know.
- Bat proof your home. Wildlife biologists can provide tips on how to bat proof your home without harming bats but preventing them from entering your home.
In 2006, the Alliance for Rabies Control, a U.K. charity, formed to promote rabies prevention worldwide. The Alliance, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, declared September 28 World Rabies Day. All partners, including international health organizations, national, state and local public health partners, professional organizations, commercial pharmaceutical companies and foundations are called upon to plan events throughout the world to increase awareness about rabies and to raise support and funding towards its control and prevention.
For more information, visit our website at www.mainepublichealth.gov/rabies.