Coyote Attacks Pit Bull, Raccoon Bites Woman in LA: Is Rabies Our Next Health Threat?

ANIMAL WATCH-During a brief lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in May 2020, a San Diego man took his Pit Bull to a San Diego-area park, where an aggressive coyote jumped a six-foot fence to attack the dog. 

They stared at each other stiffly for a few seconds and then the coyote became even more agitated and chased the large dog, attempting to bite him repeatedly as he ran to his owner. News10 broadcast an alarming video of the event which happened around 3 p.m. 

"Coyotes are getting bolder during the virus pandemic," says Fox5, local residents claim it is not the first time this brazen coyote has chased dogs in the same park and that there have been numerous recent mid-day sightings of coyotes in residential neighborhoods. 

San Diego Animal Control warned residents to keep pets safe because of increased daytime sightings of coyotes in the area. Oddly, there was no mention in the story of the potential for rabies in coyotes -- especially those exhibiting unusually aggressive behavior.  

Raccoon attacks woman and her dog in Mid-City Los Angeles 

On March 4, 2021, the Larchmont Chronicle reported that a Wilshire-area resident was walking her dog near Wilton and Seventh Street on a recent Sunday evening, when they were both attacked by a very aggressive raccoon.

The victim said they were near her neighbor's succulent garden when the raccoon appeared suddenly and attacked from about 12-feet away. (Racoons do not commonly feed on succulents, according to experts.)  She at first thought it was of the many feral cats in the area, she told the Chronicle. But the raccoon charged toward her 50-lb. cattle dog and then attacked her leg when she tried to protect her pet. Both were bleeding from their wounds, she said, and she remembered screaming in fear. The raccoon then latched itself onto the dog's back and dragged her into the street, but the dog fought back and escaped to their front door. The raccoon ran toward Wilton Place. 

The adopted dog, Ruby, had recently had her rabies shot renewed, but the owner required four rounds of rabies vaccines at intervals of four days apart and the hospital reported the incident to Los Angeles County Health Department. 

Los Angeles Animal Services told the Chronicle that this was "unusual behavior," but did not appear to express concern regarding the possibility that the raccoon was rabid. “Typically, wildlife will avoid human interaction," the City department responded, "In most cases where wildlife is becoming a nuisance, it is either ill or someone has been feeding them. It is extremely rare for raccoons to attack persons or domesticated animals without provocation." An LA Animal Services officer is quoted by the Chronicle as saying that "it is good news that no one has seen hide nor hair of the raccoon since the incident." 

There was apparently no notice issued in the surrounding neighborhood. 

The lack of concern for public safety shown by LAAS GM Brenda Barnette is disturbing. A notice should have been issued to this community, even if time had passed since the attack. This racoon should have been searched for and captured, if possible, to determine whether it was rabid (especially since it exhibited such atypical behavior). And residents should have been warned to avoid contact and report sightings of this very real threat to public health and safety. 

(Special thanks to Suzan Filipek and the Larchmont Chronicle for covering this story. 

The CDC reports that wild animals accounted for 92.7% of reported rabies cases in 2018 (the last year it provided a full rabies surveillance report by species). Bats were the most frequently reported rabid wildlife species (33% of all animal cases during 2018), followed by raccoons at 30.3%. 


The institution of mandatory dog vaccination programs has all but halted the natural spread of rabies among domestic dogs in the U.S., the CDC reports, Nonetheless, around 60 to 70 dogs and more than 250 cats are reported rabid each year. Nearly all these animals were unvaccinated and acquired rabies from wildlife (such as bats, raccoons, and skunks.) 

And, according to the Los Angeles County Health Department, each year, hundreds of thousands of animals need to be placed under observation or be tested for rabies, and between 30,000 to 60,000 people need to receive rabies post exposure prophylaxis. 

In Why a simple, Lifesaving Rabies Shot Can Cost $10,000 in America, Sarah Kliff explains that, "Untreated rabies is always fatal -- but key treatment drugs leave families with thousands in medical debt." 

"Specifically, the drug that prevents rabies from spreading to the brain can cost more than $10,000 in the U.S. and hospital emergency rooms," she states, "can exacerbate the pricing problem. ER's typically are the only locations where patients can find the lifesaving treatment." 


According to the Los Angeles County Health Department, each year, hundreds of thousands of animals need to be placed under observation or be tested for rabies, and between 30,000 to 60,000 people need to receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

Human cases of rabies are now very rare in Los Angeles County. The risk of rabies is low here overall because so many pets are vaccinated against it. The last recorded death in Los Angeles County was in 2003, when a 22-year-old man died after six days in the hospital and was diagnosed with rabies by autopsy. An investigation by public health workers revealed the man was most likely bitten by a rabid dog more than 15 months earlier in El Salvador. 


The COVID-19 epidemic restricted humans to home confinement and allowed wildlife to move into city business districts, forage in residential areas without interference and live freely in public parks. They have apparently lost their innate fear of humans. 

However, this has been a static process all over California -- and much of the U.S. -- with lifting of severe limitations and then easing of rules, which later were tightened again. Wildlife is not aware of these fluctuations. 

But many animal control/services agencies such as, Los Angeles Animal Services, now receive large monetary supplements from various major multi-million-dollar humane organizations, which are dependent upon donations based on manipulating public attitudes on various issues -- one of them wildlife (including predators) "living among us." This requires minimizing reports of the contagious and often deadly diseases that are transmissible to humans and pets. 

(In reality, few wild animals have an affinity for humans other than as a source of food and they are a danger in close proximity. Nature has preserved them for millions of years according to their purpose and adaptability in the worldwide environment and does not need us to "save" them.) 


Father Kills Coyote with Bare Hands to Save His 2-Year-Old Son 

A tragic story was reported by FOX5 San Diego, Man kills coyote with bare hands after attack on his 2-year-old son. "A Kensington, NH, man had no choice but to kill a coyote with his bare hands after it grabbed the hood of a jacket worn by his 2-year-old son and dragged the boy to the ground." Ian O’Reilly told CNN he had “never harmed an animal so it was a weird experience.” O’Reilly kicked the coyote away after it bit him twice while he tried fending it off and protect his son. He had to use his body weight to suffocate it while holding its snout shut, he said in an emailed statement." 

Here's the Kensington Police Facebook post for that day:  

On Monday January 20, 2020 at approximately 8:40 am the Hampton Falls Police received a report of a coyote attacking a vehicle on Drinkwater Rd. . . .near the Kensington/Hampton Falls border. 

The Kensington Police received a call at approximately 9:00 am that a 62-year-old woman on Hemlock Rd reported she and her dogs were attacked by a coyote. The coyote was on her three-season porch and her two dogs had opened the sliding door and were attacked by the coyote. The two dogs retreated back into the house and the coyote attempted to get into the house. While the homeowner was fighting to keep the coyote out of the house she was bitten. The homeowner was treated at the Exeter Hospital and received the first series of rabies shots. She will return later this week for the second set of shots. Her two dogs were also treated and received a rabies booster shot. 

The Exeter Police then received a call approximately 11:00 am that the same coyote had attacked a family walking on the trail in Exeter. The coyote attacked a young child and the child’s dad went into protection mode and suffocated the coyote until it succumbed. New Hampshire Fish and Game has the coyote and is taking it to be tested for rabies

New Hampshire Fish and Game used DNA from the bites to both victims to determine whether the same animal was involved in the attacks, according to the news report. 

Coyote Attacks Described as ‘Surreal’ 

A "surreal" series of attacks in one morning in Dover, PA, was described in a KESQ report, Rabid coyote killed after attacking two people and a dog in a residential community as it went from one property to the next biting residents and a dog who were outdoors in the morning, and finally being shot by a resident with a rifle. Residents who saw the coyote reported it looked like a normal female coyote, but had no problem approaching people." However, the PA State Game Warden Scott Brookens stated, “It’s almost unheard of. They very much thrive on secrecy. They don’t want to be around humans.” 


Coyote Bites at least Five People in San Francisco Bay Area 

On February 25, 2021, the Los Angeles Times reported, Coyote bites fifth person in Bay Area, sparking 24-hour predator hunt. A "Northern California 3-year-old was attacked by a coyote responsible for multiple bite-and-run incidents," officials say. 

Massive news coverage and 24-hour search efforts by residents and wildlife officials, including the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are “fully engaged,” the Police Department said, but have failed so far to locate the coyote "that has attacked both grown men and children and eluded traps. . ." in Moraga, a San Francisco Bay Area suburb, the report states. 

"In each case, the apparently fearless coyote approached unsuspecting people and bit them before running off. All the victims recovered from their puncture wounds, and DNA has linked the attacks to a single coyote," according to the Times. 

The mother of the three-year-old girl attacked while she was pushing a stroller last week told CBS News that the animal retreated after she waved a blanket and shouted at it, but it returned. The child suffered three bite wounds, according to reports. 

In July, the coyote bit a two-year-old and wouldn't let go until it was hit with a bicycle helmet by the child's nanny. Both attacks occurred in the same geographic area. 

"Coyotes, along with deer, bobcats, wild turkeys and the occasional mountain lion, have long moved through the area, but predators have limited their hunting to other animals," the report states. 

Capt. Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife advises that last year ". . .there were more than a dozen coyote bites, but this aggressive coyote has managed to evade authorities."  He said he believed all the recent victims have received rabies shots.  

There was also a sixth bite reported and believed to be the same coyote, but officials said that the DNA testing could not be done soon enough to be conclusive. 


Durban boy dies of rabies as first human case reported in 2021 

A two-year old South African boy has died of rabies in the first case of the disease detected in humans this year the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported.  

"The child sustained an injury on his head while playing with a dog in the last week of January 2021 and was taken to hospital, but reportedly no rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) was administered,” the NICD said. “Purportedly, the dog died. The boy was admitted to a hospital on 10 February with fever, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, muscle spasm, hypersalivation, hydrophobia, confusion, agitation, hyperactivity and aggressive behavior, and died the following day.” A single saliva sample collected before the patient died had tested positive for rabies.  


The NICD said the COVID-19 epidemic had hampered the control and prevention of rabies in the country as fewer dog owners and communities had been vaccinating their pets during the pandemic. Vaccination of dogs (and cats) remains the single most important intervention in the control and prevention of rabies.” (The total laboratory-confirmed human rabies cases in South Africa in 2020 was eight.)  


Rabies is a virus that can enter the body through a bite or any tiny lesion on the skin, which may not even be visible to the human eye. It is usually caused by a bite by a rabid animal, but transmission can also occur if saliva containing the rabies virus is introduced into an opening in the skin. 

However, until the time that the brain and salivary glands have been invaded, it is not subject to diagnosis because it travels through the nervous system, not the bloodstream. 

After the virus enters the body, it begins to multiply in the area near the entry site. If the infection is not stopped at that point, it will continue to travel by invading nerve cells until it reaches the brain, where it continues to multiply and spread to the salivary glands or other parts of the body. An infected animal can only transmit rabies after the virus enters the brain and is shed through the saliva, but this is before the onset of clinical signs. 

This is why it is critical NOT to wait to begin the PEP shots (post-exposure prophylaxis). Once symptoms are identifiable, it has affected the brain and it is too late to treat the virus, and it is fatal. In humans. The incubation period (the time between initial contact with the virus and onset of the disease) generally ranges from two to eight weeks. 

IF YOU HAVE BEEN BITTEN, wash the bite wound immediately with soap and water (and iodine if available and you are not allergic); promptly seek medical attention and guidance from a physician; and take rabies PEP if prescribed by a physician. 


The animal may appear anxious, aggressive, or even more friendly than normal. As the disease progresses, animals develop hypersensitivity to light and sound. They may also have seizures and/or become extremely vicious. 

There is also a form of rabies symptoms (known as dumb rabies) that appears as lethargy and lack of coordination. Any neurological change in behavior can be a symptom of rabies. 

The final stage of rabies is typified by paralysis of the nerves that control the head and throat -- the animal will hypersalivate and lose the ability to swallow. As the paralysis progresses, the animal eventually goes into respiratory failure and dies. The only way to test for rabies is by examination of the brain tissue of a dead animal. 

There is no way to test for rabies infection in a live animal. The incubation period depends on several factors, including the location of the entry wound, the severity of the wound and the animal’s immune system. In general, the farther the wound is from the brain, the longer the incubation period will be. 


Don’t keep wild animals as pets. Americans keep more than 4.7 million exotic animals as pets— animals that cannot be vaccinated against rabies. 

(See AmericanHumane.org for more.) 

Avoid direct contact with wildlife, dead or alive. Never touch any wildlife with your bare hands. If you find a sick or injured wild animal, call your local animal control agency or humane society and let the experts handle it. 


I am not a scientist or medical expert, so I am providing the link and an abstract, provided by Nature.com regarding exciting research: 

A rabies virus-based COVID-19 vaccine, called CORAVAX is now pending, 

The recently emerged coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, is rapidly spreading in the world. The exponentially expanding threat of SARS-CoV-2 to global health highlights the urgent need for a vaccine. Herein we show the rapid development of a novel, highly efficient, and safe COVID-19 vaccine using a rabies virus-based vector that has proven to be an efficient vaccine against several emerging infectious diseases. This study reports that both a live and an inactivated rabies virus containing the SARS-CoV-2 spike S1 protein induces potent virus-neutralizing antibodies at much higher levels than seen in the sera of convalescent patients. In summary, the results provided here warrant further development of this safe and established vaccine platform against COVID-19. 

Here are some more points that make this very exciting: 

Here we present a rabies virus (RABV)-based vaccine that offers a combination of features that could prove valuable for an effective, globally distributed SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Additionally, we have demonstrated protection against another coronavirus, MERS-CoV, in challenge studies in mice utilizing the same RABV vector platform12. Our previous work has proven that both live and chemically inactivated RABV vaccines are safe for animals13,14. Furthermore, since the RABV vaccine often provides life-long immunity, long-term stability of the SARS-CoV-2 immune responses will be assessed in future studies.


(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.