With confirmation Monday, July 9, 2018 of another rabid fox in Baldwin County, the State Health Department put out a notice, warning residents of precautions that should be taken. Baldwin County now had as many rabid fox cases as the rest of the state combined. So, how big a concern is this?
What we learned was surprising in a couple of ways. First, the numbers aren’t as alarming to state officials as you might think. Secondly, the foxes aren’t the real culprit, but just innocent carriers of the fatal virus.
We’ve seen the story all too often over the last two months. Rabid, gray foxes aggressively attacking in the final stages of rabies. Most recently, two people and a dog were bitten in Robertsdale before police were able to subdue and capture the rabid fox on Sunday, July 8, 2018. One of those officers was almost the fourth victim. Overall, we’ve seen six people and two dogs attacked by four different foxes. Only three were captured and all tested positive for rabies.
“We always see increases in the warm months, starting in the spring as those animals are starting to move more looking for food sources and with that movement, we see an increase in rabies,” explained Dr. Dee Jones, Alabama State Health Veterinarian.
So, what’s causing the spread of rabies in Baldwin County? The answer may surprise you. State health officials said all cases of rabies in south Alabama are the raccoon rabies strain of the disease. As the infected animals cross paths with others, like foxes, rabies is spread. This happens in the later stages of the disease, once it reaches the brain.
“The animal that it infects is going to die, but before it dies, it will become…usually become disoriented and will become very aggressive and will attack another animal, biting that animal and place that virus-infected saliva through the skin of that animal and the process starts over,” Jones explained.
The most alarming statistic shows Baldwin County’s three cases of rabid foxes equal to that of the rest of the state, combined. Some wildlife experts think the reason we’re seeing more cases is directly related to the encroachment of human population into the wild.
“You’re going to have more animal-human conflicts because of that,” said JJ McCool with Wildlife Solutions, Inc. “It’s just simply the nature of the beast. We live in a great place for us. We live in a great place for wildlife.”
But, state health officials aren’t so sure.
“And that’s certainly building a case that we’re going to see an increase in fox rabies and I’m not sure that’s the case at all,” Jones countered. “It could just be that, hey, maybe four years from now we look back and say, oh look, in 2018 we had four rabid foxes or three rabid foxes in Baldwin County and look, we haven’t had any since.”
In the meantime, state health officials are warning people to take precautions. Rabies is preventable. Have your pets vaccinated. Don’t leave extra dog or cat food outside where raccoons and foxes can find it and grow accustomed to an easy meal near your back door.
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