Wolf Song of Alaska News

Yukon River Village on High Alert for Rabid Wolves

MARSHALL: Town turns to euthanasia, quarantines and vaccines to forestall outbreak

Mary Pemberton / AP / Anchorage Daily News / November 5, 2007

Children in the village of Marshall have been told to stay inside after dark. When night falls, three sentries are posted along the village periphery to keep the wolves out.

Precautions have been taken in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta village since a pack of wolves attacked sled dogs about 10 days ago, killing three adults and three puppies. A wolf killed by villagers turned out to be rabid.

On Friday morning, fresh wolf tracks were spotted a quarter-mile away, said Ray Alstrom, mayor of Marshall.

"There is a concern about the pack that is left that is wandering out there," he said. "That pack is still out there and might have the rabies."

Ron Clarke, assistant director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said all members of the pack probably are infected with the fatal disease.

"It is likely all of them will die of it," he said.

Rabies is spread through saliva and attacks the nervous system. The only way to determine if an animal is rabid is to cut off the head and test it. Rabies is usually universally fatal in animals and humans.

Marshall, with about 380 residents, has dozens of dogs. Alstrom said many homes have at least a few dogs to help haul fish, check trap lines and bring home firewood.

Kimberlee Beckmen, a wildlife veterinarian with Fish and Game, said rabies is rare in wolves in Alaska, but in this case the other pack members may be infected.

"Rabies virus is present in saliva, and when several animals eat from the same source, the virus can be quickly spread to other members of the pack," she said.

Indications of rabies include drooling, staggering or abnormal fearfulness or aggressiveness.

According to state epidemiologists, three people have died from rabies in Alaska, but none in decades. Two of the three cases involved wolves, and the other one was a dog. The last case was in 1943 in Wainwright.

Only 18 wolves have tested positive for rabies in Alaska since 1977. The last confirmed case was in Dillingham in 1998.

Marshall resident Tony Boliver lost a female and three puppies in the Oct. 24 wolf attack. He ended up shooting and burning eight dogs that had been bitten by the wolves. His remaining seven dogs that weren't injured are in a fenced area.

"I am not worried anymore. My dogs are fenced in now. I am still worried for other teams that aren't fenced," he said.

WOLF-EAT-DOG WORLD

Wolf encounters with dogs are a fact of life in rural Alaska.

"They kill them and eat them," Clarke said. "A wolf pack wandering by goes, 'Wow, look at that. There's an easy meal.' "

Foxes carry rabies in Alaska. Clarke said it is possible the wolf became infected while feeding on a moose or caribou carcass and a fox darted in and stole some meat.

"A wolf might have snapped at a fox and the fox nipped back and got a little saliva in a wound and that's all it takes," he said.

This year, the state Department of Health and Social Services began a lay vaccinator program to certify people to administer rabies vaccine to dogs and cats.

An environmental health officer sent Friday to Marshall to help vaccinate dogs was stuck in bad weather in Kwigillingok. Plans were to try and get someone to Marshall this week to help vaccinate dogs, said Brian Lefferts, environmental health officer with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp.

Meanwhile, Marshall residents are doing what needs to be done to try and prevent a rabies outbreak, Alstrom said.

"All the dogs that were involved have been put away and their carcasses have been burned," he said.

The village also has individuals looking for loose dogs that may have come in contact with the wolf pack. Twelve loose dogs were killed over two days.

"The residents know it is a safety and health issue right now and that we have to do this," Alstrom said.

The state health department is advising that unvaccinated dogs that came in contact with the wolves in Marshall be euthanized to prevent spreading the disease. Those dogs that also were attacked but were vaccinated previously should be immediately vaccinated again and then confined and observed for 45 days.

Lefferts said if an unvaccinated dog has been bitten or in contact with a rabid wolf and is not euthanized, it must be quarantined for six months.

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