Rabies advisory for Dartmouth

May 23, 2019

Dartmouth health officials are warning residents after a rabid raccoon was discovered in town.

According to the Board of Health, a raccoon tested positive for rabies on May 21. The raccoon had been discovered earlier in the week after an incident involving a person on Fisher Pines Way off of Fisher Road. Raccoons have also tested positive for rabies in neighboring Westport.

Chris Michaud, Director of Public Health in Dartmouth, could not disclose the date or the nature of the incident due to confidentiality concerns. 

Michaud said the department deals with rabies issues sporadically, after experiencing a large number of cases in the early 1990s when the virus arrived in Massachusetts. At that time, Michaud said the department had a rabies control agent on its staff. 

“Every so often populations climb and we might see a small resurgence,” Michaud said. “ It trickles down again and populations respond accordingly.”

Michaud stressed the need to avoid handling wildlife, as bites from infected animals can pass the virus to humans. It is almost always fatal. 

“People can be complacent and think with their hearts,” Michaud said. “They’ll see a small fox, or if they hit an animal with their car lay a towel over it. Do not handle wildlife.”

For those that do come into contact, however, Michaud said one should never diminish the risk. If in doubt contact was made, Michaud recommends contacting a doctor.

Pets’ vaccines should also be kept up to date and owners should refrain from feeding pets outdoors, as pets can contract the virus and pass it on to humans. Residents should immediately notify Dartmouth Animal Control if an animal is spotted showing strange behavior — a common sign of infection with rabies, which affects the central nervous system.

Pets should be leashed or within a fenced yard, and garbage bins should be contained in barrels with tight fitting covers to avoid attracting wild animals to homes. Homes should be secured with a chimney cap and any holes should be repaired to ensure wild animals cannot get inside.

Residents should report any human or pet contact with wildlife to Dartmouth Animal Control by calling (508) 910-1840, or to contact the Dartmouth Police Department at (508) 910-1735.