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2 people bitten by potentially rabid animals in Santa Ritas, Sabino Canyon

A potentially rabid skunk and a fox that may also carry the disease bit two people in separate incidents Thursday. A person sleeping in a campground in the Santa Rita Mountains and another person in Sabino Canyon were each bitten, and are being treated.

A man sleeping near the Arizona Trail in the Santa Ritas south of Tucson was bitten in the face by a skunk while he was sleeping, said an Arizona Game and Fish Department spokesman.

Within an hour of that incident, a person in Sabino Canyon was bitten on the ankle by a fox.

Both animals were killed by the bite victims, who said the behavior of the animals was abnormal, said AGFD's Mark Hart.

The animals are being tested for rabies by the Arizona Public Health Laboratory. Both victims are being treated for potential rabies exposure.

The backpacker on the Arizona Trail was located by Game and Fish staff after they placed a number of notes along his hiking route, urging him to contact them.

Rabies is nearly always fatal once symptoms are evident. The viral disease attacks the central nervous system and causes encephalitis — swelling of the brain.

Approximately 15 people are exposed to rabid animals in Arizona annually.

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People and mammals can get the disease from contact with saliva delivered into a bite or scratch from an infected animal. The Pima County Health Department has recommended taking the following steps to help people reduce the risk of rabies when outdoors:

  • Do not approach wild animals. Wild animals with rabies may seem unafraid of people. It's not normal for a wild animal to be friendly with people, so stay away from any animal that seems unafraid.
  • Protect your pets. If your cat or dog is not current on their rabies vaccinations, be sure to vaccinate them as soon as possible.
  • Always walk pets on a leash. Leashes give owners a tool to prevent potentially dangerous situations and contact with other animals.
  • If you see an animal acting oddly or on the ground, do not touch it. Stay away and immediately call the PACC at 520-724-5900.
  • If you have contact with an unknown animal, especially a wild animal, call the Health Department at 520-724-7797.

The disease can be prevented in people who have come into contact or have been bitten by wild animals through prompt administration of an anti-rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin.

When rabies activity among common animal carriers increases, it can :spill over" into other mammal species, such as bobcats, coyotes, javelina, cats, dogs, horses, and cows, authorities said. Rabid animals may appear disoriented or intoxicated, salivate heavily or appear thirsty.

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A hooded skunk, photographed in the Chiricahua National Monument, 2009.