Northern Gila County was placed under a four-week quarantine this week, after a rabid fox bit a 10-year-old boy near Christopher Creek.
Three other foxes, two of which were shot within fenced yards in residential neighborhoods, were tested and found to be carrying the virus. Those animals were found in Christopher Creek, Star Valley and Whispering Pines.
"This is actually the third outbreak of rabies in foxes this year in Arizona," said Craig Levy, program manager for Arizona Department of Health Services' vector borne disease program.
"To have that many in such a short time, there's no doubt other cases of rabies are brewing out there."
For that reason, Gila County officials have drawn a boundary around the Rim country and are strictly enforcing animal control restrictions from the headwater of Tonto Creek to Gisela, and from Pine to Christopher Creek.
"The 10-year-old child was actually attacked and bitten by the fox," Levy said. "The father was also exposed to the saliva of the fox in the process of trying to rescue his son. Both are being treated with rabies vaccine. As long as they're treated appropriately and in a timely fashion, it is very effective."
News of this latest outbreak has Arizona Game and Fish officials worried because fall is a prime time for hunting in the Rim country.
"Various big game hunting seasons are on right now, and quail and squirrel seasons begin Friday," said AG&F spokesman Rory Aikens. "People camping, hunting or fishing in this area should stay away from foxes and other wildlife that are sick or behaving strangely. Hunters should take proper precautions when dressing out their game animals."
DHS Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Mira Leslie said the Rim country quarantine means that pet owners should make sure their animals are vaccinated, and until Nov. 5, animal control laws, such as leash laws and animal-at-large laws, will be strictly enforced. There are, however, no restrictions on taking pets out of the area.
"Animals must be confined to the owner's property or kept on a leash at all times," Leslie said.
"They must be up-to-date on rabies vaccinations, and must be wearing current license tags."
Better still, Levy said, those traveling around the Rim country should leave their pets at home.
State health officials also strongly suggest that parents watch their children at all times, especially when traveling in the forest.
"Don't let your children feed animals, or approach animals, alive or dead," Levy said. "If there is some contact with a suspected animal, contact your local forest ranger or health department immediately."
In Arizona, rabies is most commonly found in bats, skunks and foxes, but any mammal can get the disease. Rabid animals may show unusual behavior or appear unstable.
"They may also show odd behavior, such as snapping or barking at the air," Levy said. "And, they may salivate excessively.
"For humans, once symptoms are shown, it's 100-percent fatal," he said.
For more information about rabies, call the health department (474-1210) or Levy's department at ADHS, (602) 230-5932.
Where: Gila County Health Department, 107 W. Frontier
When: 9am-11am, Saturday, Oct. 16
Cost: $8 per pet
For more information, call 474-1210
At a glance
Q: What is rabies?
A: Rabies is a deadly viral disease that attacks the central nervous system.
Q: How does a person or animal become exposed to rabies?
A: Rabies is most often transmitted from animal to animal or from animal to human by a bite. The rabies virus in the attacker's saliva is passed through the puncture wound into the victim's skin.