The news that a likely rabid bobcat attacked a Brookfield man and his nephew should not worry state residents that rabies is on an uptick in wild animals in Massachusetts, state officials say.
While state officials won’t know for sure if the bobcat had rabies until its brain is examined –- now expected Tuesday -- they said there were few other conclusions.
Yet they see the case as an anomaly: Reports of animals with rabies in the state is at a low point, at about 110 animals a year, according to 2011 statistics.
“We don’t have any evidence of a dramatic increase,’’ said Katie Brown, state public health veterinarian. She said final numbers from 2012 were not in yet, but they seem to be similar to 2011.
The cases are just a snapshot of rabies in the wild because they tend to be reported only when a rabid animal -– usually a raccoon, bat or skunk -– interacts with a pet or a person.
The case in Brookfield is highly unusual. Roger Mundell Jr. had gone into his Brookfield garage when the bobcat lunged from behind his wife’s car, sinking its fangs into Mundell’s face and wrapping its front legs around his torso. Mundell escaped, but then the animal went after Mundell’s 15-year-old nephew in the yard.
Mundell pursued the animal while his wife ran inside to get their gun. Mundell shot the bobcat while kneeling on its neck and body. Mundell and his nephew were treated for their injuries and released from the hospital but they - and Mundell's wife who had bobcat blood on her - are all being treated for rabies.
“Bobcats are an unusual animal for rabies,” said Tom French, assistant director of MassWildlife. He said there have been only about six cases of rabid bobcats ever reported in the state, compared with several thousand for raccoons.
French said bobcats don’t transmit rabies well to other bobcats.
“When it gets into a bobcat, coyote or even a cow and horse, it usually doesn’t go further than that. This is just off the charts unusual.”
French said Mundell's behavior was heroic to go back after the bobcat "essentially barehanded" when it attacked his nephew and before his wife gave him a gun.
“He stepped up to the challenge, he is admirable for what he did,” French said.
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