By Bram Berkowitz.  From The Arlington Advocate. Originally posted: March 31, 2016. Original Article.


Archie McIntyre was sitting in his office at Wright-Locke Farm Thursday, March 17, when a volunteer rushed in to say a raccoon had just bitten a little girl’s ear.

McIntyre, executive director of the Farm, ran outside and saw the raccoon scurry off into the barn. He called 911, and after police tracked the raccoon into a horse stall, McIntyre said they shot and killed the wild animal, avoiding its brain, which needs to be intact to conduct testing for rabies. As it turned out, the brain tissue tested positive for the deadly disease.

The 4-year-old Arlington resident, who was enjoying a nice afternoon at the farm with her mother, was taken to the hospital and vaccinated right away. McIntyre says the girl is expected to make a full recovery.

The vexing episode at the farm demonstrates why it’s important to know how to recognize and avoid a rabid animal, especially as people and wildlife get more active as warm weather approaches.

Rabies is a viral disease transmitted through the saliva of wild animals such as raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats. Domesticated animals that have been bitten by a wild animal with the disease can also transmit it. According to the state’s Department of Public Health, birds, fish reptiles and insects cannot contract or spread rabies. Rabies cannot be spread through patting or casual contact with an animal that has rabies; it must be from contact with an animal’s saliva, blood, urine or feces, states the DPH. Once a person is exposed to rabies, the DPH recommends that vaccination should begin promptly. Once contracted, the disease is almost always fatal.

Although rabies is a scary disease, historical data and health officials say it is not terribly common.

“A rabid raccoon is unusual [in areas with people],” said Marion Larson, chief of Information and Education at the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. “Healthy wild animals generally try to avoid people.”

According to DPH, 1,642 animals were sent to the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory in 2015 to be tested for rabies. Of this number, 103 animals, or 6 percent, tested positive for rabies. McIntyre said there are only one or two deaths from rabies in the United States each year. The disease is preventable if action is taken immediately, he said.

“It’s not very common in the state of Massachusetts,” said Winchester’s Animal Control Officer Jerry Smith. “Years ago it was because dogs weren’t given rabies shots back in the 1950s, but now there are vaccinations [dogs and cats must receive per Massachusetts General Law].”

Larson said it is important to understand that there are more raccoons per square mile in residential areas than rural areas. In residential areas, food is plentiful and there are lots of covert places for shelter, such as chimneys, sheds and attics, she said.