Like most wildlife in this area, foxes are more than happy to avoid human interaction. But when they are infected with rabies, that’s a different story. Last week, Arizona Department of Health Services reported that a fox had bitten a male in Oak Creek Canyon.
It was captured and later tested positive for rabies. “The attack by the fox was unprovoked and the individual was bitten,” Coconino County Public Health Services District Division Manager Randy Phillips said. “Wildlife with rabies typically exhibit unusual behavior, are often aggressive and may lack any fear of humans or other animals.”
Phillips said this was the second reported attack by a fox within two weeks in Oak Creek Canyon.
The other occurred on Dec. 5 when a tourist was hiking in the West Fork area and was bitten. In that incident, the fox got away and the individual said he was going to get checked out when he returned home. But, it was believed to be a different fox than the one last week.
The individual who was exposed is receiving post exposure rabies prophylaxis treatment. CCPHSD is providing signage for area trails, and notifying local businesses in the area. Rabies is an infectious disease that affects the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord of animals and humans.
It is caused by a virus present in the saliva of infected animals and is transmitted to humans through contact with the live virus. While attacks on humans are a concern, Phillips said another is the fact that in 2016 five foxes tested positive in Arizona for rabies but this year that number skyrocketed to 30 confirmed cases in eight Arizona counties.
The majority of the cases were found in Pinal and Cochise counties, but Yavapai and now Coconino have confirmed cases as well.
“This is very concerning,” he said. “In 2008 and 2009 we had outbreaks but things had been pretty quiet since then.” He said that rabies can be spread from one fox to another while in the dens through biting or saliva through normal contact.
When one is infected, it has a difficult time eating or drinking and often becomes aggressive. Phillips said that in Arizona, the three most common species to become infected with rabies are bats, skunks and foxes. And while the number of confirmed fox cases is on the rise, he said they have not seen an increase among any other wild animals.
Phillips recommends taking precautions to protect your- self and your pets from rabies. Keep all pets current on vaccinations and obey leash laws. Do not let pets roam freely. Avoid wildlife, especially those exhibiting unusual behaviors which can include; showing no fear of humans, aggressive behavior, staggering and/or acting sickly, and nocturnal mammals active during daytime. Call 911 if a wildlife emergency occurs.
To report unusual wildlife sightings or behavior call the Coconino County Public Health Services District Animal Management Program at 928-679-8756.