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Marshall Wolf Tests Positive for Rabies

October 31, 2007

Juneau, Alaska – A wolf from a pack that killed six dogs in Marshall last week has tested positive for rabies.

Tests performed by the Alaska State Virology Laboratory (ASVL) confirmed the 17 month old female wolf was positive for rabies virus.

The pack entered Marshall last Thursday, October 25 and killed three adult dogs and three pups in one dog yard. One wolf was killed and several others may have been wounded by residents of the village. Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Wildlife Veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen said it is possible other wolves in the pack have the disease as well.

“Rabies virus is present in saliva, and when several animals eat from the same source, the virus can be quickly spread to other members of the pack,” Dr. Beckmen said. “However, rabies is extremely rare in wolves in Alaska.”

No humans were injured by the wolves in Marshall. The people who came in contact with the rabid wolf when it was killed, skinned, and necropsied are being evaluated to determine if they were exposed to rabies virus.

Several dogs were bitten by wolves from the same pack. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) Division of Public Health (DPH) advises dog owners in Marshall that if their dogs were previously vaccinated to have them revaccinated immediately, and then confine and observe them for 45 days to make sure they don’t come down with the disease.

Unvaccinated dogs that were exposed to the wolves run a very high risk of developing rabies in the next few weeks and can expose other animals and people. The DPH strongly recommends that unvaccinated dogs be euthanized to prevent the risk of spreading the rabies virus to people or other animals.

Dog owners in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta with questions or concerns should contact the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Office of Environmental Health (OEH) at (907) 543-6420. OEH personnel are identifying and locating all dogs known to have been exposed to the wolves. State Veterinarian Dr. Robert Gerlach has contacted veterinarians in the region to enlist their assistance as well.

Only 18 wolves have tested positive for the disease in Alaska since 1977. The last confirmed case occurred in 1998 in a wolf from the Dillingham area. The disease is more commonly found in foxes in coastal areas, and some 35 animals have tested positive for rabies since 2006, along the west coast and North Slope of Alaska. As a result, efforts were made to vaccinate dogs in several Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta villages in 2007.

Rabies is spread when saliva from an infected animal comes into contact with another person or animal. Trappers are not normally exposed to the disease when skinning infected animals, but should be careful not to allow saliva or salivary glands to come in contact with open wounds.

In an unrelated incident, a pet dog was killed by wolves in North Pole Wednesday morning. The owner, who lives near the Chena Lakes Recreation Area, let two dogs outside before 5:00 am, and one, a 15 year old Labrador Retriever, was killed. ADF&G spokeswoman Cathie Harms said that it does not appear to be a case of wolves searching for dogs for food.

“From the tracks, it looks like it was entirely coincidental that the wolves and the dogs were in the same area. There’s no evidence the wolves tracked or stalked the dogs as prey, they just ran into them,” Harms said. “It’s not unusual for pets to be taken by wolves, especially when people live on the outskirts of town in wolf habitat.”

Rabies has never been reported in any wildlife species in Interior Alaska and is not considered a threat in the North Pole incident.


 
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