In a first-of-its-kind incident, a moose displaying signs of rabies was found in the small community of Teller, western Alaska. The animal, which was seen stumbling, drooling excessively, and acting aggressively towards people, was euthanized shortly after its discovery on June 2nd.
The moose was found to be unbalanced and had patches of bare skin. A necropsy later revealed the presence of the rabies virus in the moose’s brain, a finding that was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on June 6th.
Rabies, a virus that spreads through saliva, can affect all warm-blooded mammals. Infected animals often display aggressive behavior, excessive salivation, or foaming at the mouth. They may also exhibit abnormal behavior, such as chewing on non-food items.
The variant of the rabies virus found in the moose is the same as the one circulating in Arctic and red foxes in the region during the past winter. This suggests that the moose contracted the virus from a fox. Rabies is always present in Arctic and red fox populations along the northern and western coasts of Alaska, but at very low levels. Occasionally, flare-ups of infections lead to outbreaks in foxes that can spill over to other animals like dogs, wolves, caribou, and polar bears.
This is the first documented case of a rabid moose in Alaska. Previous cases of rabies in moose have been reported in South Dakota, Minnesota, Canada, and Russia. However, these cases are rare due to the solitary nature of moose.
Despite this unusual case, scientists do not believe it indicates an impending outbreak in the moose population in Alaska. However, the incident has led to plans to increase surveillance and testing in wild mammals found dead or killed in regions where fox rabies occurs.