A coyote who attacked several people in Westchester County, NY this week has been captured and killed, testing positive for rabies.
Authorities believe another coyote is on the loose presumed to be rabid as well.
A police officer, a postal worker, two bicyclists and two dog walkers, with their pets, were attacked within a 24 hour period. Three sheep may have been mauled as well.
One dog and a sheep have died as a result of the attacks.
The two coyotes may have been travelling together, with one still being at large.
The attacks occurred in Yonkers, Hastings-on-Hudson, and possibly Somers, NY. Residents have been asked to avoid any wooded areas and keep their pets inside.
An animal with rabies may be very aggressive, more prone to attacks as opposed to one that is not infected.
What is rabies?
Rabies is a disease caused by a virus and transmitted through a bite. Although dogs are the most common animal to transmit the virus to humans, it more commonly infects bats, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, jackals, mongooses and foxes.
The animal will be agitated and many times foaming at the mouth due to hypersalivation.
The virus affects the central nervous system, including the brain, and can therefore be fatal. Once symptoms appear it may be too late to save the affected animal or patient.
What are the symptoms and stages of rabies?
Once exposed to infected saliva the virus enters the peripheral nervous system (nerves in the limbs, outside of brain and spinal cord.) Then it travels to nerves in the muscle, replicates there and eventually works itself up to the brain. Stages occur as the following:
An incubation period is the time it takes from exposure until symptoms show. With rabies the average incubation period can range anywhere from a few days to years with the average lasting a few weeks. During the incubation period the patient may not know they are infected and the pathogen is multiplying and spreading.
The prodrome causes the patient to feel flu-like with symptoms including:
- pain at the site of the bite
- muscle soreness
- sore throat
These symptoms may last anywhere from 2-10 days.
Acute neurological phase
As the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) become affected symptoms include:
- loss of sex drive
- priapism, prolonged erections
- photophobia, distress while looking at light
- muscle rigidity
- muscle twitching
- convulsions, seizures
- difficulty swallowing
- difficulty breathing
- hydrophobia – fear of water, unique to those with rabies as they fear difficulty swallowing water
A deep state of unconsciousness can occur within 2-7 days.
Despite ventilatory support for breathing, most die of cardiac and or respiratory arrest.
Treatment of Rabies
Although most infections prove fatal, some may survive with an injection of rabies immune globulin that binds to and prevents the virus from replicating. Then four – five vaccines are given over the next two weeks to help stimulate the immune system.
Wild animals suspected of having rabies during an attack will be euthanized and their brain tissue examined for rabies. For domesticated animals, whose suspicion is less, they will be observed for 10 days, and if they do not elicit symptoms, most likely do not have rabies.
If one has been bit by a wild animal who has not been caught, the medical provider may wish to treat empirically with post exposure prophylaxis.
Prevention of Rabies
Pet owners can start by vaccinating their pets. Avoiding wild animals, especially bats, preventing them from entering the house. Vaccinations are also available for those who work frequently with animals or travel to areas where rabies is more common.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician