When the Cape's first suspected rabid raccoon was discovered in Bourne, Ace Wildlife was called in to remove it.This was front page news in the Cape Cod Times.The animal recovered by Ace Wildlife later tested negative, but prompted a new round of protective measures by authorities.
Suspected Rabid Raccoon Removed by Ace Wildlife
BOURNE - State Health Department laboratory tests of two raccoons euthanized here yesterday confirmed that both animals were negative for rabies.
A sick raccoon "walking around in circles with glazed eyes" was captured by Bourne Natural Resources officer Steven Chapman yesterday morning, about one mile from the Bourne neighborhood where a rabid raccoon was found Monday. A second sick animal was also caught yesterday on the mainland side of Sandwich.
Both raccoons were euthanized and their heads sent to the state Health Department lab in Jamaica Plain for rabies testing, according to department spokeswoman Roseanne Pawelec.
Word of the sick raccoons reached a group of 18 volunteers just as they were about to leave the Bourne Scenic Park yesterday morning to spread a blanket of rabies protection around the Pinehurst Road area where the rabid animal was found.
Rabies testing is performed on the brains of suspect animals, according to Dr. Steven Rowell, hospital director at Tufts Veterinary School and co-director of the Cape Cod Oral Vaccination Program.
The rabid raccoon was trapped by Bourne homeowner Michael Tarlow after it wandered into his yard looking dazed and listless.
Even though testing confirmed the other raccoons were not rabid, health officials wanted to be cautious.
More rabid animals possible
"It wouldn't surprise me if we find three, four or five (rabid) animals in that same area," Rowell said yesterday after the two sick raccoons were found and before they were examined.
Even if more rabid animals are found in the future, it does not necessarily mean the barrier created by an oral vaccination program dating back to 1994 has been permanently broken, Rowell said. With so many animals presumably inoculated, any rabies virus that is introduced should eventually die off.
Rabid raccoons have been found in Bourne on the mainland side of the Cape Cod Canal in recent years, but Monday's was the first case on the Cape Cod side.
Rowell said both raccoons captured yesterday may have been suffering from distemper, a disease which has some of the same symptoms as rabies, such as acting listless and dazed.
Sandwich animal control officer Timothy Houlihan said his office has seen many raccoons sick with distemper over the years.
"It's important for people to know we deal with this a lot. Raccoons may be (showing signs of rabies) when they actually have distemper or were struck by a motor vehicle," he said.
Chapman said in some years, when distemper seems to spike in raccoons, his department gets three to five calls a week about sick animals. During one month, he saw 80 cases, he said.
The sick raccoons found this week did not come into contact with humans or their pets, according to the officials.
"Our real issue here is public health," Chapman said.
Since 1992, 3,893 animals have tested positive for rabies in Massachusetts. Most were raccoons and skunks, followed by far fewer cases in foxes, cats and woodchucks.
The volunteers yesterday drove up and down streets off Route 28 south of the Bourne Rotary. As one member of each team drove, another tossed the cubes of fishmeal containing the rabies vaccine onto the sides of the road.
They spread about 3,800 pieces of the bait over about 35 square kilometers.
Yarmouth assistant health agent Amy VonHone joined forces with Heather Gallant of the Bourne Health Department to throw bait every 100 feet or so along the side streets off Route 28 about one mile south of the Bourne Rotary.
The women are members of the Cape Cod Rabies Task Force, which has been in place for nearly 11 years. VonHone yesterday said it was a day the task force has been dreading.
"There's always been a concern about an infected animal crossing the bridge on a vehicle, like a garbage truck," she said.
The task force will meet with Rowell and the co-director of the vaccination program, Dr. Allison Robbins, Monday at an emergency session at the Barnstable Superior Courthouse in Barnstable.
The bait tossed yesterday, which contained the rabies vaccine, should inoculate animals who eat it for about one year to 18 months, said Rowell.
If it is eaten by other animals, including dogs and cats, it will not hurt them and will provide them with some rabies protection, he said.
"The worst it could do is give them an upset stomach," he said.
People who inadvertently touch the cubes should wash their hands immediately, he added.
Rowell advised pet owners whose animals may pick up a piece of bait to urge them to drop it and then toss it off the road again or throw it away.
Rowell has ordered 20,000 more bait cubes, and hopes to canvass the Bourne neighborhood again next week.
(Published: March 6, 2004 - Cape Cod Times)