State Veterinarian: Madison Fox Attack 'Random'
An attack such as the one on Longview Avenue "happens rarely," Dr. Colin Campbell said.
A red fox that bit two people on Thursday morning in Madison tested positive for rabies, which means it was infected by another mammal with rabies and indicates there is rabies activity in the area.
That's a good reason to check the rabies vaccination status of pets, contain free roaming pets and remind people if they see animals acting strangely or aggressively they should call authorities.
But Deputy State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Colin Campbell said the attack was a "random" event, and there's nothing particularly risky about walking down the streets of Madison.
Rabies, a disease caused by a virus found in the saliva of rabid animals, has been an issue in New Jersey animals, particularly in suburban areas, since 1989, he said.
Rabies attacks the nervous system and causes death if left untreated.
"It's settled in, it happens, but it happens rarely, this sort of attack," Campbell said.
He said the vast majority of human exposure to rabies occurs when people initiate contact with the animal, such as when animal control officers check on animals, or a person who approaches an animal that seems sick.
That's not what happened on Longview Avenue in the borough, when a fox approached a babysitter at the front door of a Longview Avenue home and then attacked her leg when she told it, "shoo." A neigbor who ran outside and grabbed the fox off the babysitter also was bit by the fox.
Campbell was on the phone with Madison Health Officer James Norgalis last week after Campbell saw reports of the attack and wanted to be sure the fox, which was shot and killed by Madison police after being thrown by the neighbor against a car, could be tested before the state rabies lab in Ewing closed for the weekend.
Madison received the results and posted them on RoseNet.org Friday evening.
Campbell said animal control officers deal with rabid animals on an almost daily basis, and rabies is confirmed in about 250 to 325 animals in New Jersey a year.
Not all animals that are believed to be rabid are tested, he said. Testing primarily occurs when there's appropriate health action to take based on the results. Once an area knows there's an active cycle of rabies, there's no need to keep sending specimens for confirmation.
In New Jersey, an estimated 2,500 people receive treatment for possible exposure to rabies in a given year. People are treated based on their risk, without being tested, because it's important to begin treatment right away.
The babysitter and neighbor who were bit by the fox received their first round of the rabies vaccination that same day. Another resident who believes the same fox is the one that scratched her dog's nose hours before the other incident said her dog's rabies vaccinations were up-to-date, and the pet received a rabies booster shot Thursday.
In New Jersey, foxes are the fourth most common species to have confirmed cases of rabies.
Raccoons account for 77 percent of identified rabies cases, and raccoons are "pretty good at transmitting to skunks, foxes, groundhogs and free roaming cats," Campbell said.
In Morris County, from 1989 through through 2011, there were 13 foxes confirmed to have rabies, including a fox that attacked people in Chatham on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 2009. During that same time, there were 22 cats, 90 skunks and 426 raccoons from the county who tested positive for rabies.
Cases are spread around the state.
"It's really more of a random event," Campbell said of the attack. "It's a good opportunity for the health officer and his staff to put out prevention strategies."