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The Latest Animal Virus

on May 9, 2009
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National Geographic News: “New, Fast-Evolving Rabies Virus Found—and Spreading” An “evolving” virus is in the news again—but this time, skunks and foxes are at the center, not swine.

The virus in this case is rabies, the infamous disease that is perhaps less feared today but still around. A new strain of rabies found in northern Arizona has a mutation that allows it to be contagious among skunks and foxes, meaning it’s “[e]volving faster than any other new rabies virus on record,” National Geographic News reports.

A new strain of rabies found in northern Arizona has a mutation that allows it to be contagious among skunks and foxes.

The difference is that unlike previous forms of the rabies virus, the mutated variant may be transmissible by simple socializing among animals. Previously, the virus could only be passed through bites or scratches. Bats have long been the target of most concern, since they can live in such places as attics and often carry the rabies virus.

Obviously, that’s a considerable problem, since the old variant of the virus quickly killed the host, meaning it could only be passed on in violent attacks. Northern Arizona officials have seen rabies in skunks for eight years in a row, while the Flagstaff, Arizona, area has seen 14 rabid foxes so far this year. The situation presents a danger because the infected animals are turning up so close to people, with one (a bobcat) even chasing pool players at a bar in Cottonwood, Arizona.

“We’re watching evolution in action on the ground,” claims David Bergman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In response to the situation, Flagstaff has instituted a 90-day pet quarantine requiring all dogs to remain on leashes and all cats to stay indoors. Meanwhile, the state is increasing efforts to vaccinate wildlife (efforts previously deemed successful). Another concern is that foxes travel in a much wider area than skunks and other smaller wildlife, increasing the speed at which a new form of rabies could spread.

Once again, however, there is no evidence that the rabies virus is “evolving” in the same way that could turn a fish into a philosopher, as evolutionists often mean by “evolution.” Rather, mutations in the virus are merely rearranging or reducing its genetic information. Also, note that very little research—and nothing peer-reviewed—has been done on this possible new rabies virus.

As for the rest of us, remaining safe from rabies takes mostly common sense, such as keeping distance from wildlife and ensuring pets do, too. If you or someone you know is bitten or scratched by a wild animal, wash the wound with soap and water immediately and seek medical attention. If caught soon after infection, rabies can be treated, but if left untreated, rabies is almost always fatal.

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