SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


In six months, Western Alaska sees 17 rabies cases


June 21, 2006

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Health officials with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. are vaccinating dogs and treating exposed humans to ward off the latest threat of rabies in Western Alaska, where the disease has spiked for the first time in four years.



In the last six months, people in three villages have undergone a month-long series of inoculations after being bitten by a rabid dog or fox or exposed to a rabid dog's saliva, said Louisa Castrodale, a veterinarian with the state section of epidemiology. That compares with an average of one person per year in the previous three years, she said. Seven dogs with rabies have also been killed this year, compared with an average of two a year.

Rabies is a common concern in rural Alaska, where wild foxes carrying it have easy access to dog teams staked in lots or pets roaming outside houses.

Caused by a virus that affects the central nervous system, rabies often makes animals aggressive and more likely to bite. The rhabdovirus travels by saliva into wounds or mucous membranes, such as those lining the eye. It kills thousands of people around the world each year.

No one has died from rabies in Alaska since the 1940s because of widespread efforts to vaccinate dogs and treat humans who may have been exposed, Castrodale said.

The last big year came in 2002, when 16 people were treated after they were exposed to a dog with rabies. They all came from one village in Northwest Alaska after several dogs there became infected, Castrodale said.

The number of animal rabies cases confirmed by the state seems to cycle every few years with swings in the fox population, Castrodale said.

Rabies cases may be up now, she said, because the fox population has risen. People may also be sending more animals to the state for testing, she said.

The state has found 17 cases of rabies in wild foxes or dogs since Dec. 15 in at least six villages, said Terry Schmidt, manager of the state virology lab in Fairbanks.



Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service,

Publish A Letter on SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions

Contact the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska