ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Genetic sequencing has identified a never-before-seen strain of rabies found in a fox that bit a Lincoln County woman in April, New Mexico Department of Health officials said Tuesday.
The 78-year-old woman received a series of rabies vaccinations that prevented her from developing the illness, which is usually fatal, officials said.
Wildlife acting sick, fearless, aggressive or friendly should be considered a threat and avoided, officials warned.
The discovery of a new rabies strain is an unusual event, said Paul Ettestad, the state’s public health veterinarian.
The new strain, identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, “is somewhat similar to rabies strains associated with bats, but unique,” he said.
State and federal officials plan to collect dead foxes and bats in Lincoln County and to heighten surveillance for rabies, Ettestad said.
Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The state Department of Health in 2014 confirmed 12 cases of rabies in animals, including seven bats, four skunks and a fox.
Rabies in humans is a fatal disease once symptoms start, making it critical that people who are bitten receive post-exposure prevention therapy. The last human rabies death occurred in 1956.
Pet owners should vaccinate their dogs and cats for rabies, and keep pets on a leash to prevent contact with wild animals.
The public should contact the New Mexico Department of Health at 505-827-0006 if they or their animal are bitten or otherwise potentially exposed to unknown animals.
The public should contact their local Department of Game and Fish office or call radio dispatch at 505-827-9376 for assistance with suspicious wildlife such as skunks, raccoons and foxes.