After reports of rabid foxes attacking dogs in the northern part of the state, Flashlight had to wonder if some sort of horrific Night of the Living Dead-esque infection was about to take over Alaska.
But the cases are nothing out of the ordinary, experts say.
According to Dr. Erich Follmann, a zoology professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology, red and arctic foxes in Alaska's northern and western regions face rabies outbreaks every three to four years.
"This past winter was definitely a major one for rabies on the North Slope and western Alaska for both arctic fox and red fox," Follmann says. That's likely why folks down here in the southern portion of the state have heard more reports of rabid foxes lately.
The cases are more surprising to residents of Southcentral because, according to Fish and Game Biologist Rick Sinnott, there are no documented cases of rabid animals, at least not wild ones, in this part of Alaska.
Follmann says that foxes make up 80 to 90 percent of the rabies reports farther north. The disease is most often passed through saliva, so when one fox contracts rabies and reaches the aggressive stage, it will attack other animals it comes into contact with - most frequently, other foxes. Follmann says that when these rabies "epizootics" (a term Follmann uses to refer to animal epidemics) show up, they have the potential to significantly reduce the arctic and red fox populations.
But the disease is typically allowed to run its course in the wild. Follmann says there is no program for vaccinating wild animals. The only thing that can really be done is to protect domestic animals by keeping an eye on them, when there are reports of wild animals acting strangely nearby, and with vaccinations.
The Juneau Empire reported that a red fox attacked two dogs in Nome last month and the Arctic Sounder says an arctic fox attacked a puppy in Wainwright June 6. In the first case, the dogs had been vaccinated and were fine. The fox was killed by one of the dogs' owners and tested positive for rabies. In the second case, the puppy had to be put down. It tested positive for rabies as well.