ANCHORAGE — A moose in western Alaska has tested positive for rabies in the first apparent case of a rabid moose in North America, state game officials said.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials began receiving reports of a moose acting aggressively toward people in the community of Teller, located about 70 miles northwest of Nome on the Bering Sea coast, on June 2.
“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 behavior.”
After consulting with Beckmen, department staff members killed the moose because of its aggressive behavior and signs indicative of a rabies infection. The carcass was burned to prevent the virus from spreading to scavengers.
The Alaska State Virology Laboratory later detected the rabies virus in the moose’s brain, the department said in a statement.
Last week, the department said other rabid moose had been diagnosed in South Dakota, Minnesota and Canada but corrected that on Monday to say the only known cases of rabies in moose were reported in Europe. Beckmen said the other cases in North America actually were places where moose were tested for rabies but the results were negative.
The western Alaska case is the first in North America, according to national database records dating from the 1950s.
The moose had a wound from a fox bite, the likely means of transmission. The moose contracted the Arctic fox rabies variant, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That variant circulated last winter among red foxes on the Seward Peninsula and Arctic foxes on the North Slope.
Rabies outbreaks happen every year among fox populations throughout a large swath of Alaska, with outbreaks every eight to 10 years, Beckmen said.
This past winter was the largest outbreak the department had detected, including a large number of red foxes in the Nome area. Beckmen said 29% of the foxes sampled had rabies. That meant higher exposure to rabies for dogs that got into fights with foxes, Beckmen said.
The virus can affect and be fatal for humans, but the CDC says only up to three human cases are reported annually in the U.S.
Because of the rabid moose, the game department plans to test all dead wild mammals from parts of the state where rabies is generally present at a certain level among foxes, Beckmen said.
Officials also encouraged hunters and those processing game meat to wear gloves while butchering moose or other animals, washing hands thoroughly after handling game, disinfecting knives and other equipment that touches the meat and cooking game to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.