UPDATED 3:15 THIS AFTERNOON: A fox believed to have bitten a Lexington County firefighter has tested positive for rabies, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said Friday.
Spokesman Adam Myrick said the victim is expected to fully recover because treatment was sought quickly after the attack. The fox was captured about 5 p.m. Thursday.
Thursday’s fox attack near Lexington was the third in the Columbia area in the past two weeks.
Robert Adkins had completed firefighter training when a reddish-gray fox bit him on the lower leg as he was walking away from the training site toward his automobile, the 20-year-old Lexington High School graduate said.
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State officials caught what they believe to be the fox that bit Adkins on Thursday evening, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The morning attack occurred near a wooded area on Ball Park Road, a thoroughfare that contains county buildings, a fire service center and numerous ball fields just outside of Lexington.
The fox emerged from the woods, Adkins said.
“He kind of walked up to me, which I thought was kind of weird, and then he ran up and bit my leg,” Adkins said. “I kicked him as hard as I could and he ran. I didn’t see where he ran.”
Adkins said he’s not overly concerned about the bite. He immediately sought medical attention and was given shots for rabies, which made his ankle swell up, he said. More treatments are scheduled.
Rabies is a viral disease that develops in domestic and wild carnivores, as well as bats. It is transmitted to other animals or people through bites and scratches from infected animals, according to the World Health Organization.
When symptoms of the disease develop, rabies often is fatal. The key is getting treatment before symptoms develop.
A spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said state and county officials were looking for the fox Thursday afternoon.
DHEC and state wildlife officials think the fox may have been rabid, since the small animals are otherwise not aggressive.
Thursday’s incident follows attacks on two people in Richland County near the Dorn VA Hospital about two weeks ago. But the attacks in both Lexington and Richland counties may be little more than coincidence, state officials said.
DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick and state wildlife biologist Jay Butfiloski noted that foxes are among the types of wildlife susceptible to rabies. About 20 percent of the confirmed rabid animals in the state last year were foxes, Myrick said.
“We typically don’t see a whole lot of wildlife attacking people,’’ said Butfiloski,, a biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. “But on the rare occasion when something happens, it does seem to be a fox and they usually are rabid.’’
Last year, three rabid animals were confirmed in Lexington County and 107 statewide. In 2012, 17 rabid animals have been confirmed in South Carolina. South Carolina has two kinds of foxes. Gray foxes, which contain some reddish coloring, are more common and weigh about 9 to 10 pounds. Red foxes typically weigh 10 to 12 pounds, about the size of a small dog, Butfiloski, said.
“Avoid wild animals acting tame and tame animals acting wild,” said Sue Ferguson of DHEC’s Bureau of Environmental Health. “About 400 South Carolinians must undergo preventive treatment for rabies every year, with most exposures from being bitten or scratched by a rabid or suspected rabid animal.”