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Rabid grey fox killed in Jamaica

JAMAICA—Residents are concerned about a possible rabies outbreak after a grey fox attacked two people at a Jamaica residence last month.

According to Selectboard member Andy Coyne, who is also the town health officer, the attack happened on June 29.

After being in contact with state veterinarian Robert Johnson, Coyne said he is aware of “who went to the hospital and who was treated.”

Greg Eckhardt, a warden with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he responded to a dispatch call about the fox attack.

“Typically in these situations when there is possible human exposure, dispatch calls us or the rabies hotline.” Eckhardt said.

When Eckhardt arrived at the scene, the fox was already dead. Eckhardt then packaged the specimen and sent it to the Grace Cottage Hospital lab for rabies testing.

The animal’s head was removed to check for rabies, but Coyne said that it was not removed by a game warden or state official.

According to Johnson, the specimen was received and declared positive for rabies on July 1.

At the July 8 Selectboard meeting, Coyne said that he had been advised to bring the incident to the town’s attention. “Two young boys were exposed to blood splatter and maybe saliva,” he said.

In an interview last week, Coyne said he was not willing to confirm details of the incident as he had not received an official report and was not present at the incident.

According to Johnson, the fox came up onto the residence’s deck and attacked a young man by biting his boot. The fox was subdued; in the process the man in question got saliva and possibly blood on his hands.

Johnson said the young man has been advised to seek treatment for rabies and that he has started his series of treatments.

“No one was bitten, but there was a good chance of saliva contact with an open wound or mucus membrane,” said Johnson. “Non-bite rabies transmission is rare.”

Robert Stirewalt, a spokesperson with the Vermont Department of Health, confirmed that there was rabies contact with “one individual” but declined to release further information, citing health privacy reasons.

According to state health data, this was Vermont’s 32nd rabies case this year. Only one other case was reported in Windham County this year – a rabid bobcat in Athens in May.

Coyne advises pet owners to make sure their animals have current rabies vaccinations, and all residents to avoid any wild animals acting strangely.

According to state Health Department’s rabies page (healthvermont.gov/prevent/rabies/Rabies.aspx), rabies exposure can occur when the victim is bitten or if “infectious saliva or nerve tissue contacts a fresh open wound or the eyes, nose or mouth.”

It advises that people who encounter possibly rabid animals to avoid them and to call the state rabies hotline at 800-4-RABIES.

“If we can prevent someone from being bitten and have [the individual] doing the right thing when they come into contact with a wild animal, then that’s a win-win for us,” Stirewalt said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #212 (Wednesday, July 17, 2013).

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