Thursday May 10, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The fox that city officials believe was responsible for a series of attacks before being shot last week has tested positive for rabies.

Pittsfield officials are "99.9 percent" sure that the deceased fox found to be rabid by a Massachusetts Department of Public Health lab in Jamaica Plain is the same one that attacked a dog and a teenager Friday and nearly destroyed the finger of an elderly woman Saturday, all in the vicinity of upper Williams Street.

The 14-year-old girl and 84-year-old woman who were bitten in separate incidents have already begun receiving rabies treatment, which will protect them from contracting the virus, according to Merridith O'Leary, Pittsfield's public health director.

"There is a window of time if you get treatment you'll be OK, and they were well within that window," O'Leary said.

Pittsfield police shot and killed the dark gray fox on Harryel Street, where the elderly Meleca Avenue resident had been out for a walk Saturday morning when the animal attacked her.

Rabies is a fatal disease infecting the brain and spinal cord of fur-bearing mammals, including humans. Transmission of the virus occurs from exposure to saliva of a rabid animal.

O'Leary urged pet owners who believe their animals may have been exposed to the rabid fox to contact their veterinarian.

The single diagnosis is considered an isolated incident, but O'Leary said that she is concerned about the possibility of other infected foxes if the animal lived in a pack or was grooming kits. Rabid animals will die within about 10 days of infection, she said.

While it is normal for foxes to be outside in daylight seeking food, it is unusual for them not to be shy in the presence of humans, O'Leary said.

"If there are any signs of a fox in your neighborhood not acting normal, not staying away from humans, then you have reason for concern and should contact animal control," she said.

Pittsfield's animal control officer, Joe Chague, can be reached at (413) 448-9750.

"Having a mammal positive with rabies does happen almost every single year here in the Berkshires," O'Leary added. "The unfortunate thing is that people are implicated with this one."

For more information about rabies, visit www.cityofpittsfield.org/city_departments/health_and_inspections/index.htm

To reach Amanda Korman:
akorman@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6243
On Twitter: @mandface