NEW BERLIN — A fox that bit a New Berlin resident last week had rabies, said state game and agriculture officials, who also warned all Valley residents to steer clear of wild animals and seek immediate treatment for bites or wounds.
Few details were available about the victim, other than the woman was attacked by the fox Sept. 20 while hanging wash on a clothesline, said Dirk Remensnyder, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation officer for Union County.
The fox was shot and killed to stop the attack. Testing later revealed it was rabid. The victim has begun treatment for rabies.
At least two other foxes spotted in the borough had been previously seen with the rabid fox.
Rabies is a serious condition but common in wild animals, said Remensnyder, who advised residents not to panic. A rule of thumb is to remember “Animals are susceptible to a variety of different diseases,” he said, including distemper.
“Every time you see any animal acting weird, it’s not necessarily rabies. A lot of times, it’s something else they contracted,” Remensnyder said, adding that about 10 to 12 cases are tested in the Valley in an average year.
“The best thing to do is stay away from the animal and call game warden,” he said. “We’ll give advice on a course of action.”
Rabies has been around for a long time, and “it can ebb or peak depending on the animal population and predator-prey relationships,” Remensnyder said. “Sometimes there are more cases, sometimes less.”
Raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats are “rabies vector species,” he said, meaning they’re more likely to carry the disease than other animals. “Anytime we get one of those with human contact or pet contact, we’re definitely going to test the wild animal.”
The state Department of Agriculture performs the rabies testing and has results usually within 24 to 48 hours. The best course of action is to consult with a doctor or veterinarian if rabies infection is suspected, Remensnyder said.
While the disease is always fatal in untreated humans and animals, fast medical treatment keeps it from becoming full blown, he said. Also, gone are the weeks of painful shots. Rabies now is treated with four shots in two-week intervals and administered to a muscular part of the body, usually an upper arm or leg.
“If there is a possibility you were exposed,” Remensnyder said, “don’t sit back and wait” for treatment.