A 78-year-old woman was walking near her home in Lincoln County when a gray fox bit her on the leg. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish tested the animal for rabies and results were positive.

The area is home to an array of wildlife and this includes foxes. Residents see gray foxes often but this is the first instance that rabies has been confirmed in a wild animal in New Mexico. Back in 2007 to 2010, the population of gray foxes in the state suffered a rabies outbreak. The woman is now undergoing treatment and the gray fox responsible for the incident has been euthanized.

Officials have warned residents in the area to be wary of wildlife that are injured, acting abnormally or dead. Suspicious activity may be reported to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and anyone bitten must seek help immediately.

Rabies cases in the United States have changed over the course of 100 years. Whereas before 1960, majority of cases occurred in domestic animals. Now, over 90 percent are attributed to wildlife. From cats and dogs, principal hosts for rabies today are bats and wild carnivores. Deaths related to rabies have also dropped, thanks to medical advancements, going from over 100 every year at the turn of the century to just one or two annually by the 1990s. Those who do succumb to rabies mostly do so because of failing to receive medical assistance, although this typically happens because they don't know that they have been exposed.

But while deaths are now rare, public health costs connected with detecting, preventing and controlling the spread of the disease have now risen to more than $300 million each year. This cost covers vaccinations for companion animals, maintaining rabies laboratories, animal control programs and medical costs, like those incurred because of rabies postexposure prophylaxis. Each year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases a summary report compiling data from state health departments about cases of human and animal rabies.

Sept. 28 is World Rabies Day. Co-sponsored by the Alliance for Rabies Control and the CDC, it is a global health observance seeking to raise rabies awareness and enhancing prevention and control measures. World Rabies Day is the perfect time to take measures to prevent and control rabies, like vaccinating pets and educating the public on avoiding foxes, skunks, bats and raccoons, which typically transmit rabies.

Photo: USFWS | Flickr

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