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New Strain of Rabies Found in New Mexico

PHOTO: The CDC reports only one new strain of rabies has been discovered in the U.S. this past decade, that is until a woman in Lincoln County was attacked by fox with rabies last month. Photo credit U.S. Department of Defense.
PHOTO: The CDC reports only one new strain of rabies has been discovered in the U.S. this past decade, that is until a woman in Lincoln County was attacked by fox with rabies last month. Photo credit U.S. Department of Defense.
May 21, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. - A new strain of rabies is on the books after a fox attacked a woman in Lincoln County last month.

Dr. Paul Ettestad, a public health veterinarian with the New Mexico Department of Health, says brain tissue from the fox was sent to the CDC in Atlanta for analysis, which showed the animal was carrying a never-before-seen strain of the deadly disease. He says it appears the fox got rabies from a bat.

"It's closely related to other bat rabies strains that are out there," he says. "This fox probably ran into a sick or dying bat and got exposed that way."

Ettestad says the victim in the fox attack was treated and survived, but notes anyone bitten by a rabid animal that is not treated with vaccine in the short term will likely die. He says the Department of Health and other agencies are working to try to locate the species of bat where the strain originated.

According to Ettestad, new strains of rabies are extremely rare. The CDC has reported only one case of "new" rabies in the past decade prior to this strain. Ettestad says residents should ensure their dogs and cats, which often come in contact with sick or dying animals, have current rabies shots.

"Every once in a while, especially if you have an unvaccinated dog or a cat that comes across one of these rabid animals, they tangle with them and get bit," he says. "They can develop rabies and can bring it back to you and your family."

Ettestad says bats, foxes, raccoons and skunks are the most common animals to become infected. He adds that rabid animals bite several people every year in New Mexico, but there has not been a rabies-caused human death in the state in more than a half century.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM