The Nome Nugget

Rabies in fox a red flag to pet owners

- By James Mason

On Oct. 6 a red fox in Nome tested positive for rabies. When one animal of a population tests positive for the deadly virus it’s likely that more of the same population are afflicted. “I know that it got into an altercatio­n with a dog,” said Nome Animal Control Officer Emily Stotts of the infected fox. “And there were several calls in and complaints to Fish and Game about that fox in the several weeks leading up to that altercatio­n.”

According to Stotts, the dog that tangled with the rabid fox was up to date on all its vaccines. But that is not true of all dogs in Nome. Of the 10 to 15 dog bites she’s dealt with this year all but one had an up to date rabies vaccine on file. One animal did not and she had to do a supervised quarantine to make sure the animal didn’t exhibit any of the symptoms of rabies. “For every animal that is vaccinated there is another one that is not,” said Stotts.

The strain of dog rabies has been effectivel­y eliminated in the USA by animal control and vaccinatio­n programs. But dogs can still be infected with rabies from wild animals, particular­ly from foxes or wolves or from bats. Rabies kills about 55,000 people a year worldwide and in 99 percent of the cases it is transmitte­d by dogs. In India, which forbids the killing of stray dogs, about 20,000 people a year die from the virus.

Rabies is endemic in Alaska, which means it is always present, in arctic foxes. They frequently spread the virus to other animals, including dogs. Rabid foxes will enter villages and attack dogs. If those dogs have not been vaccinated they may develop rabies and become a threat to people. Wolves are the second most likely animal to attack humans when rabid. The last rabies fatality in Alaska was in 1943 when a rabid wolf attacked a Noorvik man. He survived the attack but died of rabies.

“If you get vaccinated in time it can save your life, but once you start showing symptoms, you’re going to die,” said Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen, a veterinari­an with the Division of Wildlife Conservati­on. “Just washing the wound immediatel­y makes a huge difference, reduces the amount of the virus present and can greatly reduce the risk of rabies transmissi­on.”

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