Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials reported a case of rabies in a moose from western Alaska on June 2, marking the first instance of a rabid moose in North America.
Witnesses described the animal’s behavior as aggressive towards people in the community of Teller, approximately 113 kilometers northwest of Nome near the Bering Sea coast.
“It was drooling and being very aggressive towards people and it was wobbly, unstable on its legs,” Kimberlee Beckmen, a Fish and Game wildlife veterinarian told the Anchorage Daily News. “That was very unusual behaviour.”
After consulting with Beckmen, department staff members decided to put down the moose due to its aggressive behaviour and the presence of rabies symptoms. The corpse was incinerated in order to avoid spreading the virus to other scavengers.
Subsequent testing at the Alaska State Virology Laboratory confirmed that the animal had rabies, as stated in a press release by the department.
The week of June 10th, the department said other rabid moose were identified in South Dakota, Minnesota and Canada. However, they corrected that a week later to mention that instances of rabies in moose have been confirmed in Europe only. Beckmen stated the alternative cases in North America were places where moose had been tested for rabies and the results had come back negative.
The western Alaska case is the first in North America according to countrywide database records dating from the Fifties.
The moose had a wound from a fox bite (the probable means of transmission), and was infected with the Arctic fox rabies variation, according to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The infected moose had the Arctic fox rabies variation.
That variant circulated the previous winter amongst red foxes on the Seward Peninsula and Arctic foxes at the North Slope.
Rabies outbreaks manifest every year among fox populations throughout a large swath of Alaska, with outbreaks every 8 to 10 years, Beckmen said.
The previous winter became the most significant outbreak the department had detected, including a large quantity of crimson foxes in the Nome area.
Beckmen stated 29 percent of the foxes sampled had rabies. That meant higher exposure to rabies for dogs that were prone to fighting with foxes, Beckmen said.
The virus can have an effect on and be deadly for human beings, but the CDC says they only receive reports of up to three human instances annually inside the U.S.
Due to the rabid moose, the game department plans to test all dead wild mammals from areas of the state wherein rabies is typically seen amongst foxes, Beckmen stated.
As always when handling and processing game meat, gloves should be worn and all knives and other equipment that come into contact with the meat should be thoroughly disinfected. As well, game meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F or 75° C.