February 25 1998 UNITED STATES
Fear of US epidemic grows after
FROM TUNKU VARADARAJAN IN NEW YORK
A GIRL of seven, attacked by a rabid fox in Asheboro, North Carolina, is the latest victim in America's worst rabies epidemic in four decades.
The epidemic has alarmed officials to such an extent that free rabies vaccinations are being offered. There were 839 rabies cases in North Carolina last year, and that figure seems likely to double in 1998. In 1990, there were only ten recorded cases. The attack on the girl occurred at the weekend at the North Carolina State Zoological Park, about 65 miles west of Raleigh.
The girl, who was celebrating her birthday at the park, had just emerged from a baboon exhibit when a grey fox darted out of the woods and bit her left leg. The animal released its grip only after an adult chaperone swatted it hard with a water bottle. The fox was captured minutes later. It tested positive for rabies and was shot dead. The child was treated and is recovering.
The rabies problem is so serious that officials in neighbouring Tennessee are on "rabid racoon alert". Rabid animals from North Carolina have apparently crossed state lines. In the most spectacular incident of all, a rabid beaver attacked two fisherman last year after leaping into their boat on Jordan Lake, west of Raleigh.
Copyright 1998 Times Newspapers Limited.