A fox has become Durham County's first confirmed case of rabies this year, county officials said Thursday.
The State Laboratory of Public Health returned a positive test on the animal, which was found Tuesday near West Club Boulevard and Interstate 85.
A resident saw the fox in the yard with the household's two dogs. The dogs did not appear to have had direct contact with the fox before it left the yard, said Ann Marie Breen, spokeswoman for the Durham County Sheriff's Office. A neighbor later called to report a sick-looking fox, and officers captured it.
The dogs had been vaccinated in the past but were not current on their rabies vaccine and will be observed at the home for 45 days, with visits from the sheriff's department.
Animals that come in contact with a rabid animal need to be revaccinated if they are current on their vaccine. If not, state law requires they be quarantined or euthanized, a decision made by the local health director.
"Foxes generally do not present any danger to humans unless they are rabid," said Dr. Arlene Seña, medical director for the Durham County Department of Public Health. "They are primarily nocturnal so if you see a fox during daylight hours, do not approach the fox and call Durham County Animal Services if you see the animal acting aggressively."
Rabies is mostly transmitted through the bite and virus-containing saliva of an infected animal.
Symptoms may include decreased energy and appetite, and vomiting. Signs progress within days to weakness, seizures, difficulty breathing and swallowing, excessive salivation, aggression, and ultimately death.
Rabies in humans is rare and preventable through prompt medical care.
How many cases?
Durham County had 10 confirmed rabies cases, including three foxes, in 2016, the last year available on the state Department of Health and Human Services website.
North Carolina had 251 cases that year including 117 raccoons, 51 foxes, 38 skunks, 26 bats, 10 cats, four cows, two beavers, two dogs and one deer.
Rabid raccoons, foxes, skunks, and coyotes typically show no fear of people, the county news release said. They may appear uncoordinated and be seen during the day instead of the more typical dusk. In urban areas, they may attack pets and people.
The county offers these tips:
▪ Never approach, handle, or feed wild or stray animals.
▪ Keep dogs, cats, ferrets, and livestock vaccinated against rabies.
▪ Remember, bird feeders will attract squirrels, foxes, and other mammals. Secure garbage, and remember that composting also attracts wildlife.
$10 rabies vaccines
If you see a wild animal behaving abnormally or that appears injured or in distress, do not approach it. Notify Durham County Animal Services immediately by calling 919-560-0900.
If you are bitten by a possibly rabid animal or get its saliva on an existing scratch, wound, or mucous membrane, wash the area immediately for 15 minutes with soap and clean, running water. Then seek medical attention to determine if post-exposure vaccination is required.
Pet owners with questions about vaccination requirements should contact Durham County Animal Services at 919-560-0900.
The Durham County Sheriff’s Animal Services Division, at 3005 Glenn Road, offers rabies vaccines for $10 every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. No appointment is necessary, but you will need your photo identification and the fee must be paid in cash.