Two Fairfax County children are receiving anti-rabies injections after being mauled by frenzied wild animals in separate incidents.
Ten-year-old Katherine Fisher was walking near a creek in woods near her home east of Fairfax City on Saturday when a raccoon rushed her, grabbed onto her hand and began pulling her down an embankment. Neighbors heard the girl's screams, ran to the scene and clubbed the animal to death with a stick. Tests later showed it was rabid.
On Monday 15-year-old Dane K. Rinehart was chased and attacked by a wild fox after he went outside to see what was disturbing the dogs and horses on his family's Chantilly farm near Dulles International Airport. Even after the high school sophomore managed to stab the fox with a pocket knife, the animal clawed his chest, lunged for his face and clamped onto his neck before Rinehart was able to kick him away. The fox wobbled into the woods with the knife still embedded in its neck, Rinehart said yesterday, and has eluded search parties since.
"We've never seen anything like this before," said Joseph C. Muzyka of the Fairfax health department. "Both of these attacks were completely unprovoked."
The attacks were among the most serious to develop from an escalating epidemic of rabies among wild mammals throughout the Washington area. Health officials, increasingly troubled by the outbreak, have urged people to avoid all contact with wild animals and to make sure all pets are vaccinated.
Virginia officials have reported 706 rabies cases in animals this year, 268 in Fairfax County and 289 in neighboring Loudoun County.
Montgomery County this week recorded its 52nd confirmed rabid raccoon, and at least 45 persons have undergone or are undergoing treatment. Those persons include two hunters who last week killed a raccoon, skinned it and ate it, then decided after dinner to check to see if it was rabid, said county information officer Charles Maier. The raccoon was confirmed as rabid. Health authorities said little research has been done on the effects of eating a rabid raccoon and that all authorities knew to do was to give the shots.
Prince George's has not recorded a case of raccoon rabies, according to a health department spokesman there, apparently since the disease seems to be following the path of the Potomac River.
Three rabid raccoons have been found in the District, according to Jean Goldenberg, executive director of the Washington Humane Society. One was found downtown, at 19th and G streets NW, and the other two were found in the MacArthur Boulevard area in Northwest Washington.
In Fairfax County, 67 people have been treated for possible exposure to rabies this year. But county officials said the latest attacks were the most startling because of their ferocity.
"We've had cases of exposure in the past," said Muzyka. "But it was usually the case of a person touching an animal--not the animal biting and scratching like this."
Katherine Fisher was walking with a friend through a wooded area between the Mantua and Ridgelea Hills subdivisions about dusk Saturday when the two children spotted a raccoon watching them from a nearby footbridge, according to the account she gave her mother, Judy Fisher.
"What if it's rabid?" Katherine asked her friend, remembering recent warnings about the rabies epidemic from her teacher. "We probably ought to get out of here."
But as Katherine began backing away, she slipped on a rock and fell down a slight embankment. The raccoon raced past her friend and clamped on to Katherine's calf. She told her mother she wrestled with the raccoon and wiggled out of its grip. She slipped again and the animal bit her hand, locking onto her with its jaws and pulling her down the embankment.
A neighbor heard the frightened girl's screams and beat the animal to death with a stick, according to Judy Fisher. Dane Rinehart said he was home alone late Monday afternoon when he heard some of his family's 10 dogs barking. He went outside bare-chested and, looking across the barbed wire fence that enclosed the farm's nine horses, saw the dark brown fox.
The fox saw him, too, and ran toward him, across the field and under the barbed wire. Dane tripped over some lawn chairs as he scrambled toward his house. "The next thing, he was right on top of me," he said.
Dane grabbed the fox's neck with one hand while he reached into his pocket and unfolded his buck knife. He stabbed the fox twice in the neck, which set the animal into a frenzy, he said.
"He just flipped out and started spazzing out, and that's how he clawed my chest," the 15-year-old said yesterday, shortly after receiving the first of five injections doctors will give him to ward off the rabies virus. "I covered my face with my hands, and then I felt all this saliva in my face and then something clamping on my jaw."
Dane finally managed to wrestle the fox off his chest and ran into the house.