Good news for rabies trackers

No news out of the Cave Junction area is good news to state biologists and health officials trying to keep a rabies outbreak in the area's fox and bat populations from spreading to pets or humans.

It's been almost three weeks since a new case of confirmed or suspected rabies has popped up in this rural Josephine County burg, leaving rabies trackers cautiously optimistic.

"That's good," says Steve Niemela, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist working within a multi-agency team tracking the rabies cases, which are the only ones of their kind in Oregon. "But it could fall apart with one more rabies case tomorrow."

When the first rabies cases were reported in January 2010, they abruptly stopped in mid-March and didn't return until late last fall.

"But that was just one year," Niemela says. "I don't know if it will happen again, but I hope it does."

A rabid fox that was found fighting with a dog on March 6 remained the 10th and most recent rabies case to come out of the rural Cave Junction area in the past 15 months and the first since a similar outbreak there two decades ago.

Of the 10 cases, eight foxes, one coyote and one domestic goat all died of rabies around Cave Junction, while one fox was found dead of rabies in Merlin.

They all suffered from the bat strain of rabies, and biologists theorize the disease has passed to the fox population by animals eating infected bats in the area.

The dog that fought with the rabid fox had an updated rabies shot but it remained in a 45-day quarantine to ensure that it does not pass on the disease, according to health officials.

Health officials have launched a public education campaign asking people to vaccinate their horses and pets. The ODFW now plans to test every dead fox found or trapped in Jackson and Josephine counties.

Also, the ODFW has embarked on a plan for dealing with the outbreak, including stepped-up testing of dead foxes and the possibility of vaccinating wild animals in the area.

Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system of mammals and is fatal if untreated.

Rabies symptoms in wildlife include lethargy, walking in circles, loss of muscular coordination, convulsions, irritability or aggressiveness, disorientation, excessive drooling and lack of fear of humans.

Anyone who finds an animal acting peculiarly is urged to keep clear of it and call ODFW biologists at 541-826-8774.

Niemela warns people to vaccinate their pets, watch wildlife from a distance and never approach, handle or feed wild animals. Also, people should keep wildlife away from their household garbage, he says.

Over the past two years, a strain of non-bat rabies, called terrestrial rabies, has been found in animals such as foxes and raccoons in Northern California, but not in Oregon.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail at

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