The state Department of Environmental Management announced Wednesday a dead gray fox found in a barn in the area of Frenchtown and Tillinghast roads had rabies. A resident found the dead animal on Monday, Dec. 9. It was turned over to DEM for testing Tuesday.
This is the same area where a fox presumed to be rabid attacked three people in November. It is unknown how long the gray fox had been dead or if it is the same fox responsible for the November attacks.
“It’s really irrelevant whether it was the fox that was terrorizing the area or another fox,” said State Veterinarian Scott Marshall. “It just underlines the fact that there’s rabies in the area.”
It is likely that the fox transmitted rabies to other animals in the area before it died. Marshall urged residents to take precautions such as keeping trash locked up, not leaving pet food outside, not allowing animals to run loose, and staying away from wildlife.
According to DEM, the barn where the fox was found housed a horse that was not properly vaccinated against rabies. The horse has since been administered rabies vaccine and has been quarantined.
Anyone who could have had potential contact with a fox or other wild animal in that area should contact the RI Department of Health’s Division of Infectious Diseases at 222-2577 for evaluation. Any animal owner whose pet or other domestic animal may have had contact with a fox or other wild animal should report the contact to their animal control officer.
Rabies has only been a common occurence in wildlife in Rhode Island since the 1990s. The disease had been a southern phenomenon, Marshall said, but illegal transporting of wildlife, possibly for hunting purposes, was probably the cause of its spread up the coast. Rabid animals have been found in every community in Rhode Island except New Shoreham.
The most commonly infected species include skunks, raccoons, foxes, woodchucks, and bats. DEM prohibits people from possessing native wildlife and limits those who are authorized to rehabilitate sick or injured wildlife to those individuals who are properly trained and immunized against rabies.
Protecting pets from rabies helps to maintain a barrier between humans and rabies in wildlife, and, under state law, dogs, cats, and ferrets must be maintained as currently vaccinated against rabies. Only a licensed veterinarian can administer the vaccine.
The last human case of rabies in Rhode Island was in 1940. Annually, two to three people die of rabies in the U.S., said Marshall. Worldwide, that number is much higher, he said, with 50,000 to 75,000 people dying of the disease. Marshall said the low rates in the U.S. are due to vaccination laws, a health care system good at identifying people at risk, and laws requiring stray animals to be impounded.
“We’ve really done a great job in decreasing rabies in America,” he said.
Wild animals that act aggressively or are noticeably sick should be reported to the DEM Division of Law Enforcement at 222-3070 or to your local animal control officer.
For more information on rabies, visit the DEM website, www.dem.ri.gov, and click on “Topics” then “Public Health.” Information is also available on HEALTH's website at http://www.health.ri.gov/diseases/rabies.