Published Date: 2012-04-22 08:56:47
Subject: PRO/AH/EDR> Rabies - USA (07): (VA) bear
Archive Number: 20120422.1110016
RABIES - USA (07): (VIRGINIA) bear
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2012
Source: GoDanRiver.com [edited]
Rabid bear attacks in Albemarle; shot dead by victim
An attack by a rabid bear was ended by an Albemarle County farm worker’s point-blank shotgun blast, fired from the roof of a Gator utility vehicle, police said.
The bear killed Tuesday [17 Apr 2012] is the first-ever recorded case of a rabid bear in Virginia and only the second case on the East Coast that state officials are aware of, said Jaime Sajecki, bear project leader with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
“It’s almost unheard of,” she said.
Police believe the bear was drawn by the movement of two men, who were using the vehicle to move stones on a large farm northeast of Rockfish Gap, said county police Sgt. Darrell Byers.
The roughly 120-pound female bear first attacked the vehicle itself, biting one of the tires, before pursuing the men, Byers said.
One of the men climbed into the bed of the Gator, then onto its roof, taking a shotgun loaded with birdshot with him, Byers said.
The other man left the cab, but when the vehicle started to roll downhill, he leaned back into the cab to set the parking brake, according to Byers.
The bear had come into the cab and was climbing into the bed when the man atop the Gator put his shotgun to her head and pulled the trigger, Byers said.
No one was injured in the attack or directly exposed to the rabies virus, Byers said.
The bear was decapitated, and its head sent to a state lab, where it tested positive for rabies, according to police.
But authorities doubt there are any more rabid bears out there. “Just to have one is really unusual, and it would be, I think, near impossible for another bear to have it,” Sajecki said.
Rabies is transmitted through contact with saliva, brain matter or spinal fluid of infected animals. The infected tissue must contact an open wound or mucous membranes to infect a new host. The virus alters the behavior of afflicted creatures, making them more likely to bite, Sajecki said.
The most likely way for a bear to get rabies is, just as for a human, a bite from some other animal that’s already infected, said the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Megan Kirchgessner.
There’s a vanishingly slim chance that the bear could have contracted the disease eating an infected carcass if she had a cut on her paw or in her mouth, Kirchgessner said.
Health officials will try to type the rabies in question in the hopes of figuring out what sort of animal it came from, but the test isn’t sure to work, Sajecki said.
Bears are solitary most of the time, Sajecki explained, so they aren’t likely to transmit rabies to one another. The bear killed Tuesday wasn’t lactating, which indicates she probably didn’t have cubs that could have contracted the disease, she said, and breeding season won’t really get under way until summer.
The state of the bear’s teeth leads authorities to believe she was an older animal, Byers said. “It’s really unlikely that she was around any other bears,” Sajecki said.
Officials will send the bear’s body to Harrisonburg, where it will be incinerated at the state veterinarian’s office.
The other East Coast case of rabies in a black bear was reported in 2007 in Maryland, Sajecki said.
People encountering a bear should keep a respectful distance and enjoy watching it from afar, according to the department.
The wild animals most often found with rabies include raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Signs that an animal may be rabid can include excess drooling and odd behaviors (either overly aggressive or overly easy to approach, among them), though there’s no sure way to tell without a medical test, according to the CDC.
There was one tested and confirmed case of rabies in Albemarle County and Charlottesville last year, but 5 the year before that, according to officials at the Thomas Jefferson Health District. The testing is only done in cases where there’s an exposure to a person or a domestic animal, so the actual number of cases could be much higher. So far this year there have been 3 confirmed cases, according to officials.
Sajecki added that, when possible, it’s best to shoot a suspected rabid animal somewhere other than the head, to avoid spreading contaminated tissue.
Sajecki cautioned that bears out in the middle of the day should not be assumed rabid. Given that they’re bears, they are vastly more likely not to be rabid. “We want to make sure that it’s not going to cause a lot of unnecessary concern,” she said. She said people should instead only become alarmed if the bears exhibit highly unusual behavior, as the one in Albemarle County did.
The area where the attack occurred, near the Blue Ridge Mountains, has long held bears, Sajecki said. “We’ve had a pretty healthy bear population in that area for a long time,” she said.
Attempts to contact those involved in the shooting were unsuccessful.
[Byline: Ted Strong]
ProMED-mail from HealthMap Alerts
[As Virginia's black bear population grows and expands, black bears are becoming an increasingly common sight across the Commonwealth. Additionally, human populations are also growing and spreading across most areas of Virginia. This increasing interface might result in increased pathogen circulation and spill-over. Raccoons are the main terrestrial rabies reservoirs in eastern U.S., but if another carnivore becomes abundant it may start to play an important role in the circulation of the disease.
A map of the affected area can be accessed at
Thanks, Diane Janis for submitting this report - Mod. PMB]