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‘Demented’ rabid fox hides under car, attacks woman in Weston

Fox attacked 2 victims before officials issued rabid alert in Weston

WESTON, Fla. – Annie Mathew said on Tuesday she has been undergoing treatment to prevent a rabies infection. She fears she was exposed to the deadly virus through the saliva of an infected fox earlier this month in western Broward County.

Mathew said she parked her car in front of her home in Weston’s Windmill Lake Estates community when she saw the shadow of the four-legged animal. It swiftly hid underneath her car. She was with her daughters, so she told them to stay inside.

As soon as she stepped out to investigate, the fox stuck its head out from under the car and bit her ankle. She felt the pointy teeth pierced through her skin. There was a rush of adrenaline and she started to fight the fox with everything she had.

“Thank God, I didn’t put my head down. It grabbed my foot — wouldn’t release it,” Mathew said, adding she started screaming and hitting the fox with her purse and phone. “I am running around like trying to shake it off of me.”

The attack prompted an active rabies alert in her neighborhood. Mathew feared for her life. Once a rabies infection is established, there’s no effective treatment. The virus travels through the body to the brain and infects the central nervous system.

The disease’s symptoms can appear weeks or months after a rabid animal’s bite. These include weakness, fever, headache, insomnia, muscle spasms, paralysis, hallucinations, and mental confusion. The symptoms in humans and animals are similar.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission officer who responded to help her after the attack in Weston observed the fox before trapping it. She said he quickly noticed it was behaving oddly.

“It was attacking and it was behaving like, it was sick in the head,” Mathew said. “Those were the words that he used, like a ‘demented’ animal.”

The officers caught the fox, and it tested positive for rabies. But before the test results were released on Friday, Mathew, a veteran registered nurse, knew she had to rush to the hospital to start receiving a series of shots to prevent the infection from taking hold.

“Somebody else was in the ER with the same thing,” Mathew said, adding the small bite was a really big deal. “If I thought that it was just a bite and put a Band-aid on it would have turned me into contracting the virus.”

Officials issued a rabies alert for an area of Weston. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

Mathew said she has been sharing her story because she wants to raise awareness in her community, so residents understand the risk since any mammal can get rabies. The most commonly affected, aside from foxes, are raccoons, skunks, and bats. Pets can get rabies from wildlife.

Mathew said that when it comes to rabies, time is of the essence since the disease is preventable through prompt and appropriate medical care. For more information about the rabies alert, call FDOH-Broward at 954-467-4700.

Rabies prevention

  • Leave all wildlife alone. If you find an injured animal, contact local authorities for assistance.
  • If you are bitten or scratched, seek medical care immediately.
  • Severe exposures make it more difficult to prevent rabies unless access to good medical care is immediately available.
  • Protect your pet by keeping rabies vaccinations up-to-date.
  • Call animal control to remove all stray animals.

Source: The U.S. Centers for Control Disease and Prevention

Preventing wildlife conflicts

  • Secure things that attract wildlife in your backyards such as trash
  • Clean up possible food sources such as pet food and fallen fruit.
  • Secure any livestock in predator-resistant enclosures.
  • Do not leave small domestic pets outdoors or on screened enclosures unattended.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Afternoon report

About the Authors:

Andrew Perez is a South Florida native who joined the Local 10 News team in May 2014.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.