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In Western Alaska, the Norton Sound Health Corporation’s (NSHC) Office of Environmental Health is encouraging residents of the region to make sure that their pets are vaccinated against the rabies virus after a moose tested positive for rabies in Teller.

Image by Tommy Takacs from Pixabay

Early in the morning of June 2, Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) Nome area staff received several reports about a moose that was in and around the community of Teller and acting aggressively towards people. The moose was unbalanced, stumbling, drooling profusely, and had bare patches of skin.

Rabies virus in the brain was detected on June 5 by the Alaska State Virology Laboratory. On June 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention further confirmed the virus was an Arctic Fox rabies variant. This is the same variant circulating in red foxes during the outbreak in the Nome/Seward Peninsula and North Slope arctic foxes this past winter, suggesting the moose contracted the virus from a fox.

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This is the first recorded confirmation of rabies in a moose in Alaska. Rabies diagnoses in moose are
rare, but there have been moose diagnosed with rabies in South Dakota, Minnesota, Canada and Russia.

“Due to this new case, ADF&G plans to increase rabies surveillance by testing all brain samples from wild mammals found dead or euthanized from regions with enzootic fox rabies, including Western Alaska, when feasible,” stated a press release from ADF&G on Wednesday.

Rabies: Scientific Basis of the Disease and Its Management

ADF&G encourages anyone who finds a dead mammal or sees a mammal exhibiting signs of rabies, to report their sighting immediately to ADF&G. Signs of rabies include sudden behavioral changes, such as staggering, aggression, fatigue, excessive drooling, uncoordinated movements, biting at themselves, chasing vehicles, or acting unaware of their surroundings.

Vaccinating dogs and cats against rabies continues to be the most important way to prevent rabies disease in people. Likewise, preventing pets from interacting with foxes or other wildlife, and not leaving garbage or other attractants accessible to foxes and other wildlife, remain important. If a person is bitten by a wild animal or a pet that may have been exposed to rabies, immediately wash the wound with soap and water and seek medical attention.