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Rabid fox attacks woman

Encounter leaves Ellabell resident receiving treatment

When Cathy Riccio let her dogs out one morning last week, she never expected to be attacked by a rabid fox at her Flemington Woods subdivision home near Ellabell.

Now she is taking a series of painful rabies vaccinations and hopes to warn people about wild animals acting strangely.

Riccio awoke as usual that day, following her daily routine, which included letting her dogs out. Two dogs were allowed to run freely, but Bentley, the dachshund mix, is always contained by a leash and run line.

After securing the small dog on the run line, she returned inside, but "ten minutes later, I heard (Bentley) out there, just squealing," she said.

When she looked, her small dog was standing face to face with a gray fox. "They were nose to nose," she said.

She started pulling Bentley away from the fox by his retractable leash, but the fox "kept coming at me and the dog," she said. The fox got behind her and "grabbed my foot. I was freaking out. Everybody (in the family) was asleep and I was screaming."

Trying to stay calm, Riccio didn't pull away from the fox's grip, knowing that doing so could mean ripping the skin.

"Their teeth are razor sharp," she said.

The fox finally let her go, but followed her to the back door. By that time Riccio's screams had awakened her family and her husband, Carmine, fired his gun at the fox, which fled.

Bulloch County Humane Enforcement officers responded to Riccio's call, but after four hours of intense searching, they could not find the fox, Supervisor Joey Sanders said.

They found blood, and later discovered Carmine Riccio's shots struck the fox in the leg and ear. But even after digging tunnels into a nearby fox den, they didn't find the animal, Sanders said.

"We combed the woods," Sanders said. "We found the den and chopped down bushes and dug holes into the den tunnels, but no fox."

However, the apparently unhealthy gray fox returned to the scene the next evening, Riccio said.

"He came all the way back to my back door," she said. "This time, my husband shot him in the head."

Sanders returned to the Riccio home to retrieve the fox, whose body was sent for testing.

"We found the bullet wounds from the day before," Sanders said. "The fox tested positive for rabies."

He advised Riccio to begin rabies treatment immediately, which she did.

"The first shot was the worst," she said, adding that it was quite painful and made her feel sick, but subsequent shots weren't as bad.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, www.cdc.gov, the rabies virus infects the central nervous system, "ultimately causing disease in the brain and death" if not treated.

Early symptoms of rabies in people include fever, headache and general weakness or discomfort.

"As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water)," the CDC says. "Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms."

The World Health Organzation website, www.who.int, lists rabies as "a zoonosis (a disease that is transmitted from animals to humans) ... that infects domestic and wild animals and is spread to people through close contact with infected animals' saliva via bites or scratches."

Sanders said rabies has had a presence in Bulloch County for some time, and while only animals that have attacked other animals or humans are sent for testing, he has captured sick wild animals he knows suffered from rabies.

"We have had several positive results come back on raccoons and foxes," he said. "We've seen so much and know the symptoms. We have calls about (wild) animals walking in circles, skinny, and I know it is rabies."

Rabies knows no bounds, he said. Infected animals can be found inside city limits as well as rural areas, and he advised citizens to make sure their pets are vaccinated and not to leave pet food outside.

Doing so lures wild animals to your home, he said. "Feed your pets inside or take up any food they leave uneaten."
Riccio said the incident won't be one she forgets easily.
"I would have never thought this would happen," she said. "The fox had my whole foot in his mouth, and wouldn't let go. It was really scary."

Her dogs had been vaccinated against the rabies virus, but "we took them in for boosters anyway," she said.

In 2007, a bobcat attacked a man near a Kennedy Pond residence off Georgia Highway 46. Two men killed a bobcat, which is believe to have been the same one, the next day. But because they froze the carcass before contacting authorities, it was unable to be tested, said Christopher Ivey, who was an officer with Bulloch County Humane Enforcement at that time. Authorities believed the bobcat suffered from rabies.

Years earlier, a bobcat kept a Portal-area woman at bay inside an outbuilding for hours until leaving. Its aggressive behavior led authorities to suspect rabies.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

 

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