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A rabid coyote likely attacked 2 Rhode Islanders just a day apart in neighboring towns

By Dalia Faheid, CNN

(CNN) — A single rabid coyote in Rhode Island is believed to have attacked two people in neighboring towns in the span of two days, state environmental officials said this week.

Around 12:15 p.m. Friday, a 58-year-old hiker was attacked by the coyote in a wooded area north of Belfield Drive in Johnston, according to the Johnston Police Department. The man sustained a minor leg injury after he was bitten by the coyote and was taken to the hospital.

The hiker said he was able to subdue the coyote by pinning it down by its neck, according to police. The animal died and was taken by environmental management officers for testing.

The same animal likely attacked another person on Thursday in Scituate, about 11 miles away, officials said in a Monday news release.

“The rarity of humans being the victim of coyote attacks is one of the main reasons that we surmise that one coyote is responsible for both incidents in Rhode Island,” state veterinarian Dr. Scott Marshall told CNN Wednesday. “One of our biologists intends to compare the dental structure of the coyote with the bites of the first victim to see if they match. This won’t be definitive but may support our assumption of a single coyote being responsible for both incidents.”

The coyote taken Friday tested positive for rabies, the Rhode Island Department of Health confirmed to CNN Wednesday.

In 2022, the state’s health laboratory tested 536 animals, of which 5% were found to be positive for the rabies virus. The highest number of tests occurred during the late summer months, but rabies-positive animals can be found all year long, according to the health department.

Human cases of rabies are very rare, the health department said. There has not been a human case of rabies in Rhode Island since 1940.

Rabies is endemic in Rhode Island and the state has had terrestrial rabies since 1994. While the dominant strain is the raccoon variant, with approximately a third of raccoon tests being positive, other species have lower rates. Coyotes made up only 0.7% of reported animal bite incidents between 2010 and 2014, according to the health department, and no coyotes tested positive for rabies between 2021 and 2023.

Humans being attacked by coyotes is also extremely rare, Marshall said. He has urged anyone in Scituate and Johnston who may have come into contact with the coyote to call the health department’s infectious disease division.

If someone is bitten or scratched by a wild animal, they should contact a health professional right away, the health department said. Without a post-exposure vaccine series, virtually all cases are fatal.

Post-exposure vaccination should be administered as soon as possible to anyone with a known or likely exposure to rabies, including those who received pre-exposure protection.

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