Four people in Virginia are undergoing rabies prevention treatments after they were bitten by a fox, officials said.
A fox bit one adult and one child on Wednesday, Dec. 15, and two adults on Thursday, Dec. 16, according to a news release from the Virginia Department of Health. The attacks occurred in the Cathedral Drive and Green Chapel Road area in Suffolk and are believed to have involved the same fox.
On Saturday, Dec. 18, the Suffolk Health Department was notified that a fox tested positive for rabies, officials said.
The four people who were bitten have started rabies prevention treatments, the health department said.
“This is very rare,” Jay Duell, Environmental Health Manager for the Western Tidewater Health District, told WAVY. “It does not happen very often where multiple people are involved especially over a couple of days.”
The health department said the rabid fox was roaming the neighborhood for a few days before it was captured. It recommends that residents check their pets for signs that they may have been in a fight.
“If so, please contact the health department so that we can give you advice regarding possible rabies exposure,” the health department said. “Always report any human contact with a wild animal and always avoid and report strange acting wildlife to your local animal control.”
The health department said rabies is “highly preventable” if the vaccine is given when recommended.
“Unfortunately, without preventive treatment, by the time someone develops symptoms of rabies, there is no cure, and the disease is fatal in almost 100% of cases,” the health department said. “The disease is also fatal in infected domestic dogs and cats that have not been vaccinated.”
Rabies is rare in humans in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But humans can get rabies when they are bitten or scratched by an infected animal. Bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes are the most common “source of human rabies infection” in the country.
Anyone who has been bitten by an animal suspected of having rabies should clean the wound and see a doctor immediately, regardless of whether they have received a pre-exposure rabies vaccine, which is offered to people at a high-risk of rabies exposure, the CDC said.
“Rabies can be prevented by vaccinating pets, staying away from wildlife, and seeking medical care after potential exposures and before symptoms start,” the CDC said.
The Virginia Health Department recommends that people do not approach wild or stray animals, ensure all pet dogs, cats and ferrets are up-to-date on their rabies shots, keep pets confined on their property and “securely seal garbage containers with lids.”
In Virginia, the law requires “all dogs and cats over the age of four months to be vaccinated against rabies,” the health department said.
No other information about the attacks was released as of Sunday, Dec. 19.
Suffolk is in southern Virginia near the North Carolina state line, about 37 miles west of Virginia Beach.