Rabies confirmed in dead Cave Junction gray fox

A gray fox that fought a tug-of-war with a rural Cave Junction man Sunday suffered from rabies, authorities said.

Test results confirmed late Thursday that this was the fourth fox to suffer from the bat strain of rabies in the Cave Junction area this year.

A goat in the same area died from rabies earlier this year. Before the first fox being found with rabies in January, no confirmed cases of rabies in foxes had occurred in Oregon in a decade.

"There's definitely a pocket of rabies there," said Mark Vargas, the Rogue District wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Whether it's being passed from bats to foxes or from foxes to foxes, we don't know."

Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system and is almost always caused by exposure to the saliva of an infected animal. It is nearly always fatal in animals once symptoms begin. Human infections are extremely rare.

In this case, the fox was under Jess Martin's shed and had pulled a piece of a tarp beneath the shed, which is propped about 10 inches above the ground.

When Martin pulled the tarp out, the animal pulled it back in, he said. After a short tug-of-war, the fox pushed its head out "and yapped like it was in pain," he said.

When Martin pulled the tarp again, the fox came out of the crawl space, then laid on its side and acted like it was running in place before Martin killed it with a shovel.

"It was all kind of weird," Martin said. "You just don't expect that."

ODFW biologists Monday took the animal for testing at Oregon State University.

One bat found in May near Trail tested positive for rabies, but no rabid foxes have been reported in Jackson County.

Several strains of rabies, also known as "source types," are found in the United States, including strains found in skunks, foxes and bats.

A strain of terrestrial rabies has been found in animals in Northern California, such as foxes and raccoons, over the past two years, but not in Oregon.

Oregon state veterinarian Dr. Emilio DeBess said seeing another fox with rabies in the same area is not unexpected. DeBess said representatives from the ODFW as well as local and state public-health agencies will be discussing how to proceed.

DeBess warned people that the best precautions against rabies are to keep house pets up to date on rabies vaccines and never handle bats.

After learning that the fox had rabies, Martin said he will use bleach to clean the area where the fox spun on the ground. He already put the shovel head into a burn pile to disinfect it, Martin said.

"I'm not really worried, but I think I'm going to get rid of the gloves I wore," he said.

DeBess said anyone who encounters wildlife acting strangely should leave the animals alone, and report animal deaths to the ODFW at 541-826-8774.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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