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Potentially rabid fox nearly bites Saguaro East hiker

A hiker in Saguaro National Park was nearly bitten on the leg by a suspected rabid fox on Wednesday afternoon, officials said — the second encounter between a possibly rabid animal and a hiker in the park this year.

While walking on the Miller Creek Trail in the east section of the park, near its boundary with the Coronado National Forest, a group of hikers encountered the gray fox but drove it away.

A short while later, the animal bit through the pant leg of one of the party, authorities said Thursday. The hiker was evaluated for possible exposure to rabies, but the bite apparently did not break the skin.

There have been 51 confirmed cases of rabies in Arizona this year; 34 in southeast Arizona. Foxes, skunks and bats are the most common carriers.

"Avoid contact with and don't approach wildlife that is behaving abnormally or appears to be ill. If you believe that you see a rabid animal, call us at 1-623-236-7201," said Regional Supervisor Raul Vega of Game and Fish in Tucson. "In addition, avoid touching any dead wildlife that you may find, and keep your pets away from them as well."

Vega said that pets such as dogs and cats, as well as livestock like horses, should be regularly vaccinated for rabies. In addition, dogs should be on leashes when outdoors, and a veterinarian consulted if any domestic animals are injured by wildlife, he said. Unvaccinated animals exposed to wildlife with rabies must be quarantined for four months.

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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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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U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

A gray fox