Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during a Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Feb. 2, 2022. A Brunswick town councilor was bitten by a rabid groundhog on June 23 while mowing his lawn. Credit: Barry Reeger / AP

A Brunswick town councilor is recovering after a rabid groundhog ambushed him and bit him on the thigh, the Times Record reported.

David Watson told the Times Record he was working on his lawn tractor on the afternoon of July 23 when he noticed a groundhog at the edge of the forest. The animal disappeared into the woods then reappeared and jumped onto Watson’s mower.

“My mental comment was, ‘I hope he’s friendly.’ But he wasn’t,” Watson told the Times Record. “He came up over my left hip and attacked my right inner thigh.”

The bite went through the 75-year-old councilor’s pants and broke the skin. Watson, a former police officer, realized that the groundhog might be rabid and went into his house to get a revolver. When the animal charged him again, he shot and killed it.

The groundhog was tested at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and came back positive for rabies. Watson went immediately to Mid Coast Hospital and was treated for rabies in a regimen that requires multiple shots. Watson told the Times Record that with one shot remaining he had not experienced any symptoms of the disease, which is nearly always fatal if untreated to the point when symptoms can be detected.

Between January and May, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 30 rabies infections in animals, including raccoons, skunks and bats, one fox and one woodchuck. Twelve of those cases were in Cumberland County. In 2022, Maine CDC confirmed 35 for the entire year.

People get rabies by coming into direct contact with the saliva, brain or nervous system tissue from an infected animal. This most commonly happens from a bite, but the disease can also be transmitted if a rabid animal licks you.

If you think you have come into contact with a rabid animal, report it by calling the public health line of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention at 1-800-821-5821. The agency will take your general information and assign a CDC epidemiologist to your case to get specific information.

Any wild animal that has come in contact with a domestic animal or person and can’t be observed in quarantine should be tested by the Maine State Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory in Augusta. The test is free and results are available the same or following day.

Procedures for getting the animal to the lab and other information is available on the Maine CDC’s online rabies page.

Ethan Andrews is the night editor. He was formerly the managing editor at The Free Press and worked as a reporter for The Republican Journal and Pen Bay Pilot.