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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Fox Had Rabies

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Clarksburg - A fox that attacked on four separate occasions within 24 hours before being killed has tested positive for rabies.

Town police Chief Michael Williams said that officials of the state Department of Public Health have contacted those who encountered the fox during incidents reported on Dec. 7 and 8.

Town Employees Receiving Treatment

Town Highway Department Foreman Jeff Goodell and employee Mark Patenode are undergoing rabies vaccination shots after speaking to DPH officials and their private physicians, Goodell said during a Dec. 20 telephone interview.

Goodell and Patenode encountered the fox after the animal ventured onto town garage property on Dec. 7 and Dec. 8. The fox attacked on both occasions, and was at the town garage West Cross Road site when Williams shot it on Dec. 8.

Goodell and Patenode were not bitten during the incidents but because rabies may be contracted through contact with infected saliva, both men opted to undergo the shot series as a precaution, Goodell said.

“I didn’t want to go around wondering about it,” Goodell said. “The people from the public health department and my doctor said it behooved us to have the shots, and I figured better safe than sorry.”

Rabies exposure treatment involves two medications, a rabies immune globulin that contains virus-fighting antibodies, and a rabies vaccine. The antibody shot is administered once and the vaccine is delivered as part of a series of shots.

The shots are administered into different body parts including thighs, buttocks, and arms, at different times, Goodell said. How many shots are given depends in part on body weight; Goodell said he will receive a total of 13 rabies prevention shots and 1 tetanus shot and Patenode is expected to receive a total 11 rabies prevention shots and 1 tetanus shot.

State health officials also contacted Barbara King of Walker Street, who was attacked by the fox as she attempted to cross the town Senior Center parking lot on Dec. 8. King was not bitten but the fox did grab onto her pants leg with its’ teeth and left tooth punctures in the material. King and a friend, Leona Knox, were able to dislodge the fox with pocketbooks and a walking cane. Information about whether King is undergoing any shot therapy because of the attack was unavailable on Dec. 20.

School Notification

Town elementary school administrators were notified about the rabid fox because of the school’s proximity to the town garage and the Senior Center, Williams said. Students at the school do participate during outdoor recess periods and recess supervisors need to be aware of any animals that may enter school play areas or other areas where students may be present, Williams said.

“We want school personnel to be aware,” he said. “There are educational resources available on the [state] Department of Public Health web site that teachers can use if they wish. We don’t know if the fox had any encounter with any other animals and we don’t know how the fox became infected. We don’t know the range that the fox traveled.”

When Williams visited the school, he learned that a fox, believed to be the same animal, had attacked a child who was sledding in the West Road area during the late afternoon or early evening of Dec. 7. The child was with siblings when the fox apparently jumped onto the back of a sled and subsequently ripped a child's snowpants with its' teeth. The children used sticks to drive the fox off, Williams said.
Williams contacted the parents of the children, he said, and also made DPH officials aware of the incident.

The fox is the first rabid animal reported in the town during 2005, Williams said.

North Adams Animal Control Officer Pete Wheeler was informed of the rabid fox because of the town’s proximity to the city, Williams said.

Rabies Information

According to information made available by the DPH, rabies is a brain and spinal cord disease caused by a virus. Rabies exists in the nervous tissue and saliva of infected animals and is spread when the animals bite or scratch. The virus may also be spread if saliva from an infected animal touches broken skin, open wounds, or the lining of the mouth, nose, or eyes. In caves that are crowded with bats, it may be possible to inhale the virus from bat saliva that may be in the air, according to the information.

Rabies can infect any mammal but is most commonly detected in bats, skunks, foxes, and raccoons. Cats, dogs, and farm livestock may contract rabies unless they are vaccinated against the virus.

In 2004, 3,479 specimens were submitted to the State Laboratory Institute and tested for the rabies virus. According to information made available by the DPH, 327 specimens tested positive for rabies. Of the 59 fox specimens tested at the laboratory in 2004, 11 were determined to be positive for rabies. Raccoons and skunks topped the rabies detections; of 626 raccoon specimens tested, 169 were deemed positive for the virus. There were 307 skunk specimens tested and 99 tested positive for rabies.

Berkshire Rabies

There were 74 specimens submitted from the Berkshire region in 2004, and 6 of the specimens tested positive for rabies, according to the DPH information. Barnstable County submitted the most specimens and had the highest incidence of rabies; of 640 specimens tested, 124 tested positive for rabies. The DPH has made available a “Top Ten” list that identifies the 10 animals with the highest incidence of detected rabies within the state from 1992 to 2003. Raccoons top the list, followed by skunks, bats, cats, fox, woodchucks, cows, coyotes, dogs, and a 10th place tie with pigs and horses.

DPH Guidelines

The DPH has issued guidelines that can help prevent rabies in humans. The guidelines are as follows:

Avoid wild animals, especially raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Do not feed or pet strays. Avoid ANY animal that you do not know. Report any animal that is acting oddly to local animal control officers or police.

Teach children to avoid wildlife, stray animals, and animals they do not know well.

Do not handle dead, sick, or injured animals yourself; call the police or animal control officers. If there is no choice but to handle such an animal, wear heavy gloves and use sticks or other tools to avoid direct contact.

Make certain that pets are vaccinated against rabies. By state law, all dogs, cats, and ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies.

Feed pets indoors and keep pets indoors at nights. According to DPH information, even vaccinated pets may acquire rabies.

It is against state law to keep wild animals such as skunks and raccoons as pets. There are no rabies vaccines for most wild species.

Cap chimneys with screens and block any openings in attics, cellars and porches.

If bats are invading a house, camp, or other building occupied by humans or animals such as livestock,, contact professional contractors about bat-proofing the structure.

Animal control officers, veterinarians and veterinarian assistants, and other individuals who have frequent contact with stray animals or wildlife should receive routine rabies vaccinations as protection against the rabies virus.

Police Chief Advice

Williams urged all town residents to avoid any wild animals under any circumstances. No one should approach any animal if it is acting oddly or appears ill, Williams said.

“People really should not be approaching any animal that is acting in an unusual manner,” Williams said. “And I wouldn’t recommend approaching any wild animal, whether it is rabid or not. Wild animals are easily scared and may come at you because of that. If there is a problem with an animal, people should contact the animal control officer.”

Christopher Dix is the town’s animal control officer and may be reached by calling 413-663-3313.

Additional information about rabies may be acquired at the www.mass.gov/dph Internet web site. Click on “Health Topic Index” or “Public Health Fact Sheets.”

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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