Rabies cases bring attention to overall awareness


SHAFTSBURY — Two cases of rabies have been reported in the area of Shaftsbury and North Bennington.

A cow has contracted the disease as well as a gray fox, which attacked a local woman, according to Traci Mulligan, deputy health officer of animal control in Shaftsbury and Arlington.

"I've done animal control for 30 years now and when rabies first happened it was well announced. People became more cautious and knew what precautions to take..." she said. "We still have rabies around."

With summer activities at their peak in the Lake Paran area, Mulligan wants to reinforce the importance of not approaching wild animals. The gray fox victim lives at the entrance of the lake and told Mulligan that a jogger stopped by to see if she saw the fox and if her chickens were okay. Later, the fox approached the victim's land and bit her. She was able to detain it and get it removed.

Rabies is a viral disease transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal, commonly from raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. It infects the central nervous system, affecting the brain, and could lead to death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, vaccinations after exposure are highly effective.

It's difficult to determine if an animal has the disease by looking at it, but it could behave lethargic or aggressive.

Fifteen animals, mostly raccoons, but also a cat, tested positive for rabies so far this year, according to the Vermont Department of Health. The first recorded case in the state occurred in 1963 with no human cases.

In August, the USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service-Wildlife Services (APHIS) and the state do an annual rabies bait-drop to keep the disease from spreading.

Those who have outdoor pets should get them vaccinated and avoid wild animals. Food waste, compost, bird seed and trash can lure in wild animals and strays.

"I had someone come in with an injured raccoon in her blouse," Mulligan said. "People should always err on the side of caution."

On Wednesday, a couple was attacked in New Scotland, N.Y. by a bobcat when visiting a friend's house to pick up tables for a garage sale. The bobcat bit the woman a few times and then the dog pursued it. The husband was then also bitten after trying to get the bobcat away. The homeowners were able to shoot the cat and it was removed, according to WRGB Channel 6 News Albany.

"That's the first I've ever heard of that," Mulligan said. "I guess they'll find it was rabid. You just don't know where it'll happen. It can happen in aggressive form. They're either coming for you or you're keeping your distance."

Mulligan said woodchucks and bears are around more this year and she hasn't seen many bats, particularly from white nose syndrome that has killed over 500,000 hibernating bats across the Northeast.

In 2010, a father and son in North Bennington encountered a rabid gray fox, which was the sixth case that year, according to the July 23 Banner article.

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