Forsyth fox provides painful rabies lesson

Sandra Odom was with her little brother and his friend at her community pool in Forsyth County last month when a little fox crept out of the woods and walked over to them.

“It slowly walked up to me and wrapped and rubbed around me,” Odom, 23, said. “It was acting like a cat. It looked weak and scared.”

But as one of the boys turned to pet the fox, barred teeth dug into Odom’s left ankle.

“It felt like teeth gnawing into me,” Odom said. “But I was more in shock at the time.”

Each year, hundreds of Georgians like Odom, as well as domestic animals, encounter rabid animals.

Since 2010 1,118 rabid animals, including raccoons, skunks and bats, have exposed humans or family pets to rabies, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

One hundred twenty-four were rabid foxes.

Rabies is a viral disease that is carried by mammals and transmitted through biting or scratching. Left untreated, the virus infects the central nervous system, causing disease in the brain and death. Symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, paralysis and increased saliva production.

Rabies can cause death within days after symptoms begin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Rabies is endemic in the Southeast,” said Ken Riddleberger, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources’ Game Management Section. “Bites by rabid animals aren’t all that common, but it is a big deal because rabies is almost always deadly. It isn’t something to play with.”

A rabid fox bit another Forsyth County resident in April. Another attacked an Augusta man in March and a cow in Banks County had an unwelcome encounter with a rabid skunk, according to media reports.

Odom wasn’t the first person to encounter the same rabid fox in Forsyth on July 22.

Donna Toedtman, 58, lives in Lanier Heights, the same neighborhood as Odom’s, and was trimming her bushes in the late morning hours, something that normally brings her peace. She got down on her knees to pick up the trimmings, just when the fox came around the corner of the house and and headed right for Toedtman.

“I saw him bite me,” Toedtman said. “I have never had such a terrible thing. It was like a hard deep clamp (on the right arm). It hurt so bad. The fox knew what it was doing.”

After biting her, it grabbed her gardening glove and ran off. She said that if it weren’t for her sun hat, the fox might have bitten her in the face.

Both Odom and Toedtman landed at Forsyth Northside Hospital to get rabies vaccinations.

“I got about 10 shots,” Odom said. “The shots around the bite hurt worse than the bite itself.”

The pair also had to get three additional sets of shots and the shots aren’t cheap.

“I just got my bill and it was more than $10,000,” Odom said.

That one was just for the first set of shots. The bill for the other three rounds still haven’t arrived, she said this week.

The fox that attacked the two women was shot and killed that night by a DNR official and taken to the Forsyth County Animal Shelter, where rabies was confirmed, said Lisa Thomas with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

Odom said there were no signs that the fox was rabid. There was no foaming of the mouth, though the fox did look disoriented, she said.

“There is no way to look at animals and be sure they aren’t rabid,” Riddleberger said. “They can look really healthy and be infectious.”

He recommends staying away from wild animals, especially if they look sick. If bitten by an animal, call the health department immediately, Riddleberger suggests.

Odom said she and the two boys learned a hard lesson about wild animals.

“The boys thought the fox was a cute thing. But now they know not to get too close,” she said.