Rabid Fox

Published 4:13 pm Thursday, October 25, 2012

CUMBERLAND – Bob Flippen, of Cumberland, was bitten by a rabid fox the morning of October 19 near his residence off River Road.

This is the third confirmed case of a rabid animal in Cumberland this year. There have been seven confirmed cases in Prince Edward and two in Buckingham. The number of confirmed cases is fairly static from year to year in this area, according to Ed Dunn, Environmental Health Manager for the Piedmont Health District.

However, citizens are encouraged to continue vaccinating their pets and reporting animals exhibiting irregular behavior. This time of year, hunters are especially encouraged to make sure hunting dogs are vaccinated.

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Rabies is a deadly viral infection that causes fever, confusion and, if untreated, death. It is usually transmitted to humans through a bite by an infected animal.

“It Started Like Any Other Day”

Flippen, an Education Specialist at High Bridge Trail State Park and a part-time employee of The Herald, is thankful he had a duty assignment that day. Because he was wearing his park uniform, his pants were especially thick.

It was still dark outside when he headed down to his chicken coops to feed the animals. When all of a sudden something “grabbed me by the leg. Never saw it coming. It was dark. It came up from the side, I never saw it.”

Out of reflex, Flippen kicked his leg free. Only then could he see from the glow of a nearby security light that it was a grey fox that had attacked him.

He immediately went inside the house and lifted up his pants leg. There was a long red gash that was bleeding.

He woke a friend to drive him to the hospital. At that point, he knew it wasn't good.

Flippen knew it was rare to even see a fox, much less be attacked by one unprovoked.

Usually, Flippen stated, “when you do see one, and they see you, they're gone. So, for him to be aggressive like that, this is not good…There are two kinds of foxes. This is the wrong kind.”

The Center for Disease Control recommends that any bite from a raccoon, skunk, fox, bat or coyote be considered as potential exposure to rabies because the virus is so prevalent in those species. An unprovoked bite from a pet that is behaving abnormally or appears to be ill should also be considered a potential source of rabies. Rabies in wild animals can only be confirmed by examination of the brain.

Anyone who is bitten by an animal is encouraged to clean the site of the wound. This will greatly decrease the chance of infection. They should also try to contain the animal that bit them, if possible, and immediately contact their family physician. But, this is one fox that wasn't going to be caught.

Flippen's friend left the home to get into a vehicle, only to also be chased by the fox.

At this point, Flippen decided to secure his revolver. The fox was lying about 20 feet away when he shot at it from his porch, expecting to scare it away. Instead, the fox ran straight at him.

Undeterred, Flippen found a cane, planning to “flail on it” if it came at him again. Thankfully, he made it to his vehicle safely.

He called 911 and requested that animal control be sent to his house, informing them that he believed he had been bitten by a rabid fox.

Cornering A Fox

Officer R. A. Davenport, of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department, arrived at Flippen's home to stand by until animal control could arrive.

He rode down toward the chicken coops in his police car, looking for the irregular fox. He didn't have to look long. The fox found him.

“He was acting a little crazy. He just charged the car,” Davenport later told The Herald.

He tried to drive away so that he could observe the fox from afar, but the fox continued to attack one of his tires.

The tire won, running over the fox. The fox finally backed down, leaving the car, while continuing to act erratically, before collapsing in a field.

Davenport later stated, “I guess 'police car' was on his lunch menu that day, because he charged it pretty good.”

When Animal Control Officer John Sullivan arrived, the fox was writhing on the ground in the field.


Flippen was quickly checked into Centra Southside Community Hospital where he received a total of eleven shots. The first, a vaccine in the arm, was the first in a series of four shots, which must be administered over a series of days.

Flippen then received ten shots of human rabies immune globulin (HRIG). Because it takes a while for the vaccine to begin working, the HRIG shots are administered to provide immediate antibodies to fight the virus. This is added protection until the body begins creating antibodies of its own. Eight shots were administered around the sight of the wound and another two to the upper buttocks.

Flippen emphasized that the treatment sounds worse than it is: “If it happens to anybody, I want you to go get it taken care of. Don't take any chances… It wasn't that bad.”

Once clinical signs of rabies appear, treatment is usually ineffective. If exposure to rabies is not treated at all, it is 100 percent fatal.

Flippen received all these shots without knowing for sure if the fox was rabid. In order to confirm that, the fox's head was sent by Sullivan to the Health Department's Central Lab in Richmond to be examined. Tuesday morning, Dunn confirmed that the fox was indeed rabid.

Flippen plans to receive his final two rabies vaccine shots at the Cumberland Health Department. After three days, his wound appeared to be healing well.

Rabies is prevalent in the wild animal population. Dunn stressed the importance of having pets vaccinated: “The barrier between wild animals and humans is pets. We stress that people keep their pets' vaccinations up-to-date. It is state law that once your animals are six months of age, cats and dogs, they must be vaccinated.”

He also encourages citizens to be aware of their interaction with wild animals: “We ask people to observe wildlife, do not touch it, and if you notice something unusual please notify your local animal control agency.”

There is an upcoming rabies clinic at Tipton's Midway in Cumberland this Saturday, October 27, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Individuals can also take their pets to their veterinarian to be vaccinated.