Navajo County residents warned of rabies, woman attacked by bobcat

Following a bobcat attack on a young woman in a neighborhood behind the Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse in Show Low, Arizona Game and Fish Department (department) officials are advising area residents to be alert for any wild animal or pet that appears to behave oddly, indicating the potential presence of rabies.

A Navajo County deputy sheriff responded to the attack call Sunday evening, April 28. At the same time, another deputy sheriff nearby observed a bobcat behaving in an aggressive, abnormal manner and destroyed it. The carcass was collected and shipped to the Arizona State Health Laboratory for necropsy and rabies testing.

The woman was attacked about 10:30 p.m., receiving several bites and scratches on her thigh. She was treated at Summit Healthcare Regional Medical Center and subsequently released, receiving rabies vaccines and anti-rabies serum as a precaution, pending outcome of the tests.

“Bobcats rarely attack people, but when they do, the animal is often rabid,” says Bruce Sitko, department spokesman. “While we don’t expect a larger outbreak of the virus in the local area, we want to err on the side of caution in alerting residents to watch and report any abnormal behaviors in other wild or domestic animals, as this bobcat may have had contact with them.”

Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system and is always fatal once symptoms appear. The virus can be transmitted to people or animals through bites from infected animals or exposure to infected saliva through open wounds or mucous membranes.

In recent years, the occurrence of rabies has been uncommon in Navajo County. According to Arizona Department of Health Services records, the last confirmed case of any animal testing positive in Navajo County was a bat in 2011. In 2010, three bats tested positive in the county. The last case of a bobcat testing positive for rabies anywhere in Arizona was a single incident in 2011.

Health Services and department officials recommend the following to protect individuals and pets from rabies:

  • Do not pick up, touch or feed wild or unfamiliar mammals. If someone is bitten or scratched, or has had contact with an animal, report it immediately to animal control or health officials and consult a physician as soon as possible.
  • When enjoying outdoor activities, such as hiking or camping, avoid wild mammals, especially those that are behaving abnormally. Such behavior from the animal might include showing no fear; unusual vocalizing; staggering and/or acting sickly; and nocturnal mammals active during daytime.
  • Campers should keep pets under control and maintain a clean camp to discourage visits from unwanted wildlife. Do not leave uneaten food out when retiring for the evening.
  • Keep pets on a leash and do not allow them to wander.
  • Vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies.

Do not disturb roosting bats. If a bat is found on the ground, don’t touch it. If the bat is found in an urban area, report it and the location to the local animal control officer or health department.