'Bizarre' rabid beaver attacks 3 in Philly park

By Jennifer Welsh
updated 6/6/2011 6:24:42 PM ET

A rabies rabies-ridden beaver that wreaked havoc in a Philadelphia park, biting three residents over the last week, likely contracted the virus after a scuffle with a rabid raccoon, park rangers say.

While beavers rarely transmit rabies in the area, residents should try to avoid the park and nearby areas of northeast Philadelphia where rabid raccoons might be hiding.

A single animal loose in the city's Pennypack Park first bit a married couple fishing on Wednesday, then a child on Thursday. The three victims were admitted to the hospital and treated for the infection.

After Thursday's attack, the animal was found and killed by a park ranger. It tested positive for rabies at the Pennsylvania Health Department lab, and also showed signs of blunt force trauma, consistent with the first attack, when the bitten husband claimed to have hit the beaver with a rock to chase it away.

"At this point, we do have reason to believe it was the same animal," Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesperson Jerry Feaser told LiveScience. "It's unusual that it was beavers, it was unusual that there were two incidences so closely together and it was truly bizarre it was in Philadelphia."

A 'truly bizarre' beaver
The park officials are stumped by what they called a "truly bizarre" set of circumstances, as beavers aren't the usual source of rabies bites in the area. They are searching the park for any additional animals that might have contracted the disease from either the rabid raccoon or the beaver.

Rabies is a virus found in mammals and is spread through their bite. It attacks the brain and nervous system. Rabies is endemic in raccoons in most of the eastern United States, and when a rabid raccoon bites, it can transfer the disease to other animals, including humans, pets and other wildlife.

Other animals don't tend to spread the disease further, though, because in the United States, rabies is specifically adapted to living on raccoons, Pennsylvania Health Department epidemiologist Marshall Deasy told LiveScience.

Even when beavers do get the bug, there's not a big concern they'll transmit it. "Beavers have never been known to transmit rabies to anything, including other beavers," Deasy said. "But raccoons are extremely common; they bite people and pets, so it's an issue for vets and pet owners as well."

Uncommon attacks
The attack in Philadelphia follows close on the heels of an earlier attack in late April on White Clay Creek (located in the suburbs of Philadelphia), where a fisher was bitten on the leg. The beaver was killed in the following struggle, and its carcass tested positive for rabies.

Those two cases are the only known transmission of rabies by a beaver during the last 12 years in the state, though rabies has been found in other mammals — mostly raccoons, skunks, cats, bats and foxes — between 350 and 500 times per year mostly in raccoons.

Typically, rabies isn't confirmed until after the animal becomes aggressive and is killed by park rangers or the game commission.

Many more thousands probably die from the disease in the wilderness, according to Deasy.

Only a few cases a year are found within Philadelphia city limits.

No humans have died of rabies in Pennsylvania since 1984, when a 12-year-old boy was bitten by a bat and died in Lycoming County.


Bad News for Brazilian Blowouts

This month the National Toxicology Program added formaldehyde as a 'known carcinogen' in their 12th Report on Carcinogens. The official report here.

Interestingly, Canada declared it a toxic substance back in 1999, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared it a known carcinogen in 2006. (Clearly we in the US must enjoy a different or less toxic variety of formaldehyde than our North American neighbors and the rest of the world, as it took a decade for us to reach the same conclusions.)

Here's a NY Times article about Brazilian blowouts from 2007. Although the Times does mention the risks and refers to formaldehyde as carcinogenic, they also helpfully provide two links to help the reader locate salons that offer the treatment, and basically provide gushing testimonial to how liberating and revolutionary it is (and is it weird to mention that there appears to be an undercurrent of marketing to Jewish women in this article?--editors' note: the writer of this post is herself Jewish and is thus allowed to make this somewhat spurious leap).