Maine veterinarians believe a new rabies strain could be infecting gray foxes along the coast.

The new strain may be the result of cross-infection between raccoons and gray foxes, and that could account for the rise in fox attacks throughout Sagadahoc County, the American Journal reported.

Maine’s testing site does not have the capabilities to test for separate strains of rabies — to detect variants, samples have to be sent to Washington, D.C.

State Veterinarian Michele Walsh told the newspaper that test results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show strong evidence that a new strain has infected foxes.

When a strain is transmitted between species, it increases the potential that the newly infected animal will suffer more severe effects of the virus. Walsh told the newspaper she believes that it is causing gray foxes to be more aggressive.

Since March, at least five fox attacks have been reported in Topsham. Out of those, only one of the animals tested positive for rabies. One animal was suspected to be rabid, and the other animals were not found or not tested because no one was injured during the attack.

In early 2020, the Maine Department of Fish and Wildlife said that the “unusual number of aggressive fox attacks on people and domestic pets has raised human health and safety concerns.”

There is no cure for animals infected with rabies, according to the U.S. CDC. To prevent rabies, pet owners should stay up to date with their animal’s required vaccinations, and take their animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible if it has been exposed to a potentially rabid animal.

Humans can become infected with rabies if they are bitten by a rabid animal, or are otherwise exposed to the body fluids of the animal. Humans can be treated for the virus after exposure, and it is rarely deadly.

Walsh told the American Journal that foxes adapt well to suburban environments, and tend to live in close proximity to humans.

Maine wildlife officials recommend staying aware of animal activity, monitoring food or scraps that may attract animals and contacting the Maine Warden Service or the Maine State Police if an animal is acting odd or aggressively.

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Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.