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Stray dog brought to Anchorage tests positive for rabies

A stray dog brought to Anchorage from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta on Friday has tested positive for rabies, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said in a release Tuesday afternoon.

The dog had been living in foster homes in Bethel and Anchorage. It had been kept quarantined after its rescue in both cities, minimizing potential exposure to the virus, the release said.

The animal had begun acting strange, and the family fostering the dog in Anchorage alerted a veterinarian, said Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the state health department.

"It was acting funny. It was acting a little woozy and sort of had an issue with its jaw," Castrodale said.

To test for rabies, brain tissue is needed, so the animal was put down, Castrodale said. It tested positive for the rabies virus.

People who had interacted with the dog were informed of the results, Castrodale said, and were discussing possible treatment with their health care providers. Castrodale wasn't aware of anyone who had been bitten by the dog.

Rabies is not uncommon in certain parts of Alaska, Castrodale said.

"We see rabies every year, but it's pretty geographically defined in the northern and western areas," Castrodale said. Mostly, rabies occurs within the red and Arctic fox populations.

Rabies is not seen often in areas along Alaska's road system. "That's unusual for us, to confirm rabies in the area," Castrodale said.

The last time an animal was brought to Anchorage carrying rabies was in March 2009, also from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

The rabies virus is most often passed through the bite of a rabid animal. The virus infects the central nervous system, causing disease in the brain and ultimately death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Clinical signs begin typically one to three months after exposure, Castrodale said. Early symptoms include fever, headache and general weakness, progressing to anxiety, partial paralysis, hallucinations. Once a person exhibits symptoms, the disease is almost always fatal, according to the CDC.

A person who has come into contact with suspected rabid animals should be evaluated as soon as possible by a health care provider, the release says. If a person has been exposed to rabies, a vaccine is given in four doses over a 14-day period, with a single dose of a second vaccine. The vaccination schedule is altered for people who have already received a rabies vaccine.

Rabies vaccines used to be provided free of charge by the state health department, but that stopped in January 2014 due to budget concerns.

The health department recommends calling a local animal control office if you find a stray or injured animal, and not approaching or touching it; vaccinating fostered domestic animals, especially from rural Alaska; and asking for proof of rabies vaccination before adopting a rescued animal.

"Be familiar with the common signs of rabies infection, including: drooling or foaming at the mouth; stumbling, falling, or losing control of limbs; slack or loose jaw; weakness and lethargy. If your animal demonstrates these signs, contact a veterinarian immediately to make plans to have the animal evaluated," the release says.

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