Mountain lion attacks boy, starts rabies scare

A 10-year-old-boy on a family outing to the Verde River to celebrate his birthday came face to face with a mountain lion Saturday.

The family survived the attack when the boy's uncle shot the cat, but now some will need to be treated for the rabies the lion carried. The Yavapai Health Department is warning recreationists not to handle animals in the wild.

Paul Schalow and his family from Maricopa County took their quads north of Horseshoe Reservoir to Sheep's Bridge Crossing. Also along was Brittany, Paul's cousin. When they stopped to eat, Brittany was the first to notice the lion that had walked up behind Paul.

Suddenly everyone was yelling at Paul "not to move" and the somewhat lethargic lion placed his jaw on the boy's head and put its paw on him.

The young boy said he could not feel the teeth because they were dull, but Paul did feel the scratches from the big paw. The lion did not attack further and the boy's uncle shot at the cat. The animal became a little "wobbly" and went to a tree then moved toward Paul again and it was shot a second time. The child was scratched by the cat's paw when the lion was spooked by gunfire.

Arizona Game and Fish officials performed an autopsy on the lion after the family called the agency to request if they could keep the hide.

State Veterinarian Elisabeth Lawaczeck of the Office of infection Disease Services of the state health department says that two adult males were possibly exposed to rabies while performing the autopsy without gloves. One of the men was advised to begin the rabies prophylaxis. The second man and the boy were advised to go to a Phoenix emergency room for evaluation.

The Game and Fish officer who performed the decapitation wore gloves and was not exposed. He was returning to the forest to retrieve the remains of the lion's carcass to be incinerated. Organs taken from the animal were left on the beach by the family and pose a rabies "exposure risk to other animals," according to Lawaczeck.

"Encounters with animal wildlife, dead or alive, pose risks for people whenever they hike or spend time outdoors," says Yavapai County's Health Officer Robert Resendes. "Such encounters are rare and shouldn't deter people from enjoying nature. However, being alert for encounters and knowing what to do can keep you safe."

"Whether an animal is staggering or not, keep a safe distance. An erratic change in animal behavior is often the first sign that the animal has rabies. Rabid animals may act more aggressive or more tame than usual because the virus that causes rabies is attacking the brain and nervous system of the infected animal. Rabid animals may stagger or appear weak. Bats may be unable to fly. Animals that are usually active at night may appear during the daytime."

Wild animals such as skunks, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and bats may carry rabies. A bite from an infected animal is all that it takes to spread the virus to humans.

It is also possible to get rabies when the saliva of an infected animal gets into the eyes, mouth, nose or open wound.

If bitten by any wild animal, and especially those that exhibit unusual behavior, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek appropriate medical attention from your doctor or hospital.  

Teach children never to pick up or handle any injured, sick or dead animals. Call Arizona Game and Fish or other authorities to properly remove the animal will limit exposure to disease.  

Vaccinate outdoor cats and dogs against rabies. Unvaccinated domestic animals can develop rabies symptoms in as few as 10 days if bitten by an infected animal.

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