Susan Buckley, RN, Director, Public Health
Ira Singh, MPH, Deputy Director
Donald I. Baird, MD, Health Officer

Division of Environmental Health


Date Released: 12/17/2008
Subject: Rabies and Foxes
Contact: Kevin Metcalfe, Supervising Environmental Health Specialist, Environmental Health Division
Phone: (707) 445-6215

There have been four incidents of fox attacks on persons or animals in the Bayside area of Arcata reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Environmental Health within the last two months. On October 23rd a man working near Anderson Lane and Old Arcata Road was bitten by a fox on his work pants and it was shaken off and ran away. The next evening on October 24th, a student and custodian at the Jacoby Creek School were attacked on the pants and legs by a fox. It was shot by an Arcata Police Department officer and it subsequently tested positive for rabies by the Public Health Laboratory. Both persons involved in this incident were subsequently treated for their potential rabies exposures. Recently, on December 15th, a dog on Golf Course Road was attacked by a fox that was shot by a local resident and was submitted to Environmental Health for testing. The fourth incident occurred on December 16th, when a woman outdoors on Clipper Lane was bitten on the boot and the fox ran away. Although rabies is present in Humboldt County wildlife, it is unusual to see this many rabid or suspected rabid wild animal encounters within the same area and short timeframe. Other areas of the county where foxes have tested positive this year include Willow Creek, Hydesville, and the Cummings Road – Pigeon Point area east of Eureka. In each of these incidents the person involved did the correct thing by seeking medical attention, detaining the animal where possible, notifying local law enforcement, and contacting the Division of Environmental Health.

Residents are warned that a fox can show very aggressive behavior when exhibiting the symptoms of the rabies virus. The recent events involved unprovoked attacks on people. Rabies is endemic or always present in the wildlife population and typically found in bats, skunks, and sometimes in wild carnivores such as coyotes or foxes. No matter where they reside, persons can protect themselves with the following measures:

1. Avoid contact with wild animals including feral cats.
2. Report aggressive wild animals and stray animals to local law enforcement.
3. Vaccinate dogs, cats and select livestock against rabies. Keep vaccinations current.
4. Obtain medical care promptly if bitten by an animal.
5. Report bites from domestic animals to county or city animal control and bites from wild animals to Environmental Health.

Rabies is fatal. Vaccination of pets is a primary prevention measure, providing a barrier to keep the rabies virus from passing from the wild animal population to domestic animals and people. State law requires vaccination of all dogs and it is strongly recommended that cats be vaccinated. If a domestic dog or cat with a current rabies vaccination status is exposed to a rabid animal, then the owner is directed to have the animal re-vaccinated (immunity needs to be high) and observe the animal’s behavior for a 30 day period. A pet that is not current in its rabies vaccinations and encounters a rabid animal may have to be euthanized, or isolated in double enclosure quarantine for six months at the owner’s expense.

Many of Humboldt County’s veterinarians offer low cost shot clinics, and residents are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this service. Contact your veterinarian for additional information on upcoming clinics. Know your pet’s vaccination dates and keep them currently vaccinated.

Other important safety measures include avoiding contact with wild and stray animals, reporting animal bites to your county or municipal animal control officer, instructing children to not touch a wild or stray animal and report it to an adult, washing animal bites immediately with soap and water and seeking medical attention, bat proofing homes and outbuildings, and bringing pet foods indoors at night to keep skunks, raccoons, opossum, and fox from becoming uninvited visitors on your porch. Questions about rabies should be directed to the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Environmental Health at (707) 445-6215, or toll free at 1 (800) 963-9241. Call one of these numbers if you have a bite from a skunk, fox, or a bat or have found a bat in your home. Help protect your family and community by being aware of the presence of rabies and knowing how to reduce the risk of exposure.


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