A fox that attacked a 78-year-old woman in Lincoln County New Mexico on April 20 tested positive for rabies and officials are warning the public to stay away from wildlife that is dead, injured or acting abnormally.
“The public should be vigilant and stay away from any animals behaving strangely,” said Dr. Kerry Mower, wildlife disease specialist for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “People should vaccinate their pets.”
Wildlife acting sick, fearless, aggressive or friendly should be considered a threat and avoided, Mower said.
“Rabies in humans is a fatal disease once symptoms start, so it is critical that people who are bitten receive post-exposure prevention therapy when indicated,” said New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward.
The public should contact their local Department of Game and Fish office or call radio dispatch at (505) 827-9376 for assistance with suspicious wildlife such as skunks, raccoons and foxes, Mower said. The public should contact the New Mexico Department of Health at (505) 827-0006 if they or their animal are bitten or otherwise potentially exposed to unknown animals.
The gray fox involved in the attack was euthanized by a Department of Game and Fish warden and tested positive for the disease at the New Mexico Department of Health Scientific Laboratory Division. The woman was walking near her home in Lincoln County when the fox approached her and bit her on her leg when she tried to scare the fox away. The woman has begun rabies preventive therapy.
This is the first wild animal to test positive for the disease in New Mexico this year, Mower said. A rabies epidemic occurred among gray foxes in New Mexico from 2007 to 2010 and further testing of the fox is underway to determine if that strain of the disease is involved, he said.
In 2014 there were 12 cases of rabies found in wildlife, including six bats in Bernalillo County, one bat in San Miguel County, four skunks in Eddy County, and a fox in Roosevelt County.
Here are some guidelines to help protect yourself and your family from rabies:
- Stay away from wild or unfamiliar animals.
- Do not attempt to feed, approach, or touch wild animals (alive or dead).
- Teach this important message to your children.
- Rabid animals may show no fear of people and may seem friendly or become aggressive.
- Pets should be up to date on rabies vaccinations and wearing current license tags on their collar.
- Horses and other valuable livestock should be considered for rabies vaccination to protect them from wild rabid animals that may attack them.
- If you or a loved one are bitten by an animal, or come into contact with an animal’s saliva, wash the exposed site immediately with soap and water.
- Be sure to report the bite to local animal control and/or health officials as soon as possible for recommendations about receiving rabies exposure preventive vaccine, and seek medical care as soon as possible.
- Keep pets on a leash at all times.
- If your cat or dog has been bitten or scratched, call your pet’s veterinarian, even if the wound appears to be superficial.
- If you see a sick or dead wild animal, or a wild animal acting abnormally, stay away and report it to authorities.
For more info about rabies see the New Mexico Department of Health website at: http://archive.nmhealth.org/erd/healthdata/rabies.shtml