(01/28/2001)
By Bob Weaver (Part Two)

Flags are up over the spread of rabies into Calhoun and Wirt Counties since a fox head has been certified with raccoon-strain rabies. An official declaration has yet to be made. Local woodsman Harold Stutler says he is confident it has infected local raccoons, five of which he killed recently, none of which were tested.

Rabies has slowly been spreading west and south from county to county in West Virginia for several years, the outbreak already hitting more than half the state.

"The fox looked pretty healthy, but it had saliva dripping from its mouth," according to Tim Carpenter of Stutler Ridge. Carpenter shot the fox after being alerted by well tender Ron Gherke, after which it became aggressive. "We climbed up on a separator. It came after us and he (Gherke) hit it with a shovel and I shot it again."

Carpenter said he and Gherke placed the fox in plastic and took it to Harold Stutler on Little Creek, who removed its head. The Wirt County Health Department gave a positive report for rabies.

Rabies is an ancient virus (hydrophobia) capable of infecting warm-blooded animals, most notably bats, raccoons, foxes and skunks. The West Virginia outbreak, this time around, about 60-70% of the cases involve raccoons.

The risk of the virus spreading to dogs and cats is prevented by a West Virginia law which requires pets to receive rabies vaccinations. Calhoun Dog Warden Ron Gordon cautioned only 50% of Calhoun's household animals may have been vaccinated.

The exposure is through being bitten or scratched, particularly by a wild animal that cannot be captured. Symptoms of rabies includes:

Temperament change, friendly animals become aggressive or normally aggressive animals seem friendly or restless.
Unprovoked attacks, biting or scratching anything that moves.
Changes in the bark of dogs.
A protruding "third" eyelid.
Drooling or appearance of choking.
Tremors, lack of coordination, loss of balance.
Paralysis and respiratory failure.
Staggering or erratic behavior.
Foxes, dogs and possibly skunks with "furious rabies" can run all night, biting everything in their path.

Conservation Officer Tom Fox said hunters and trappers "really need to take extra precaution." He suggests removal of pet feeding bowls on back porches and yards to inside areas.

A DNR spokesperson said a few more "heads of suspicious animals" are needed for testing. - MORE TO COME in The Hur Herald.


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