The province's chief veterinarian is warning that Labrador is ripe for an outbreak of rabies after a case of the virus was confirmed in a red fox near Wabush.

Tests on a dead fox came back positive for the virus Thursday. A provincial government news release said Friday that this is the first case of rabies reported in Labrador since 2005.

"This could be the one and only case, but we have everything necessary for the virus to spread quite extensively in Labrador," Hugh Whitney, Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief veterinarian, said.

The animal was put down Jan. 12 after it attacked a shovel on the doorstep of a home in Wabush. Whitney said such unusual behaviour is a tell-tale sign of rabies.

"We’ve had cases of a fox biting an axe-handle, attacking a skidoo, chewing on concrete – this type of very strange behaviour," he said.

Whitney said rabies outbreaks tend to happen when the fox population is high, as it is in Labrador this year. He said outbreaks tend to happen in four-year cycles.

"There is a fairly high concentration of foxes in Lab West. There are a lot of foxes around Goose Bay and there are reports of fox in northern Labrador. We know the virus is circulating in the Ungava Peninsula area. So everything is there," he said.  

Whitney said people should be vigilant about keeping their animals on leashes, and having them vaccinated against rabies

The virus can be lethal for animals and humans, if not treated right away.

Officials with the departments of Natural Resources and Health and Community Services are encouraging residents of Labrador to take the following precautions:

  • Keep domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, under control;
  • Vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies;
  • Avoid wild animals particularly foxes and wolves;
  • Report any sightings of strange-acting wild or domestic animals to wildlife enforcement officers, conservation officers, veterinarians, police or public health officials;
  • Wash any bites or other areas of contact with potentially rabid animals immediately with soap and water;
  • Immediately go to your health clinic or emergency department for treatment of any animal bites. Any significant contact with potentially rabid animals should be reported to public health officials.