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Rock Hill woman, neighbor treated after exposure to rabid fox

By Anna Douglas and Jonathan McFadden
adouglas@heraldonline.com jmcfadden@heraldonline.com

A Rock Hill woman bitten by a rabid fox this week says a neighbor she’d never met became her hero when she arrived at his doorstep, “screaming, crying” and gripping her hands around the wild animal’s neck.

Joni Brockelbank, 49, told the (Rock Hill) Herald on Wednesday afternoon that she was attacked in the Silver Lakes neighborhood near Newport by a 20-pound fox, believed to be less than a year old.

On Wednesday morning, state health officials confirmed that the fox was rabid.

Recovering while on vacation on the South Carolina coast and undergoing rabies treatments, Brockelbank said that when the fox lunged at her chest and bit her, the animal was “relentless.”

She said she was on a routine 7:30 a.m. jog on Monday through her neighborhood when she spotted the fox.

“When I saw him, he was already a little behind me ... and it caught my eye, I wondered what it was,” she said.

Still running, she turned to look again. The fox charged her, Brockelbank said, and she screamed, then kicked the animal.

Attacking her in the chest area, the fox latched on to Brockelbank’s shirt. Soon, she was on the ground, unsure of whether she’d slipped or the force of the attack knocked her down, she said.

“I just remember getting back up. He was attached to my shirt and would not let go.”

Brockelbank ran to a neighbor’s house – someone she’d never met before Monday’s attack, she said.

The man – whose name has not been released by officials and Brockelbank did not want to identify – grabbed a cage to contain the fox, and animal control authorities rushed to the neighborhood.

In helping Brockelbank, the man also was infected with rabies by a scratch, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control officials say.

Brockelbank and the neighbor saw each other later in a hospital while undergoing post-exposure rabies treatments, she said.

Her neighbor “really is a hero,” she said.

The experience was “horrific,” Brockelbank said, “like something out of a movie.”

Nearly as soon as she was bitten, she said she realized she couldn’t throw the animal off of her and run away.

“He would have bit me again ... it would have mangled me,” she said.

Fox attacks ‘unusual’

The fox that bit Brockelbank was euthanized and had its head submitted to DHEC for testing, said Steve Stuber, York County Animal Control director.

“It would probably be unusual for a fox to come out and attack a person,” said Stuber, adding that wild animals like foxes rarely confront humans.

Typically, an animal would run away from a human, he said. “It’s very unusual for an animal to stand its ground to a human.”

Stuber commended Brockelbank’s reaction.

“That is just incredible that she held on to that animal,” he said. “Had it not been for what she did, it could possibly still be out there. She’s a hero for just catching it.”

Stuber advises that any residents who encounter wild animals that typically don’t reveal themselves should contact Animal Control.

Jim Beasley, DHEC public information director, said that earlier cases of rabies involved animals biting pets. That, he said, should emphasize the importance of having family animals vaccinated against rabies.

State law requires pet owners to have their pets regularly vaccinated against the disease.

DHEC officials say the risk of contracting rabies can be reduced by avoiding wild animals that are acting tame or tame animals that are acting wild.

Officials suggest that anyone who believes they have been exposed to rabies should wash the affected area with soap and water.

Contact can be made through a bite, scratch or the saliva of an infected animal.

A rabies victim should seek medical attention.

Jogger to resume training

Brockelbank and her neighbor are undergoing a series rabies treatments, which include four doses of vaccination and an infusion around the bite area.

The treatment for rabies isn’t as rigorous or painful as she thought it would be, Brockelbank said.

No matter what, treatments “beat the alternative,” she said.

Side effects can include flu-like symptoms, but so far she hasn’t experienced those, Brockelbank said.

She’s thankful, she said, that the fox attacked a healthy person like herself and not a senior citizen or child who may not have been able to fend off the wild, rabid animal.

The experience, Brockelbank said, won’t stop her from running in the mornings: She’s training for a 5K. But, she said, she will no longer run alone.

Douglas: 803-329-4068 McFadden: 803-329-4082
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