A week after a Phenix City man reported being attacked by a rabid fox, officials in Russell County said more cases have been discovered and they are encouraging residents to get their pets vaccinated.
Dr. H.G. Caldwell, the rabies inspector for Russell County, said two rabid foxes and a rabid raccoon have been found in Phenix City in the last two weeks. All three animals were found in residential areas after they attacked people’s pets and tested positive for rabies.
Caldwell encouraged residents to make sure their pets were up to date on their rabies vaccinations to safeguard themselves and their four-legged friends from the dangers of the disease.
“The pets are the barrier between wildlife and ourselves,” he said. Caldwell said in two of the confirmed cases, the pets were not vaccinated.
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Rabies is a viral infection of the central nervous system and is almost always a fatal disease once contracted. The rabies virus is found in the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted through bites or scratches.
Phenix City resident Homer “Joe” Davis said he killed a fox he found in his carport using a baseball bat after it attacked him last week. The fox’s head was sent to Montgomery, Ala., where it tested positive for rabies. Davis will receive a series of shots over the next couple weeks to guard against the disease.
There have been no reported cases in April in Muscogee County, according to Pam Fair, the public relations information coordinator for the Columbus Department of Public Health. There were three reported cases in March.
Dr. Kevin Keel, a pathologist with the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, said there are multiple strains of rabies throughout the country, but only the raccoon strain of the virus is prevalent in this area. Sometimes, this form of the virus will spill over into other species, such as foxes, he said.
Raccoon rabies is always present in the Southeast, but the number of cases will fluctuate periodically.
“Some people have reported increases in rabies during March and this increase is thought to be associated with the breeding season,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The more raccoons travel and seek out other raccoons, the more likely they are to encounter rabid raccoons and become infected.”
The spike could also be attributed to a bigger raccoon population, he said.
Rabies Control, a vaccination program which contracts its services to various Alabama counties including Russell, will run a rabies vaccination verification program over the next couple days to make sure all local pets are up to date on their rabies shots.
Dr. James Green, who owns the service, said inspectors will go door to door in Phenix City, checking to make sure all dogs and cats have a certificate verifying that they have been vaccinated for rabies. Pet owners not in compliance will be charged a penalty fee of $20 per animal.
Green said people should be on the lookout for wild animals venturing into residential areas, particularly nocturnal mammals active during the day, such as foxes, raccoons and bats. He said the disease can manifest as “dumb rabies,” where the animal appears very docile and calm around humans, or “furious rabies,” where the animal is foaming at the mouth and ready to attack.
Residents who suspect that they or their pets may have been bitten by a rabid animal should contact the health department and animal control immediately. People will be given rabies shots and animals that may be infected will be quarantined for 10 days to determine if they have contracted the disease and vaccinated.
The Columbus Department of Public Health will host a rabies clinic for pet owners from 6-8 p.m. on May 13 at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium. Pet owners can get a city permit and a rabies shot for their pet for $5 each. Animals must be at least 3 months old to receive a rabies shot.