North Carolina

Hunter treated after finding the first rabid black bear in North Carolina

The Hyde County, North Carolina hunter who found a bear dying of rabies has now been treated for exposure to the disease, the Wilmington Star-News reports.

Johnnie Dale, who owns a hunting guide company in the rural coastal area, told the newspaper that he had to be treated for rabies after touching the dead bear.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission said last week that Dale found the rabid black bear in the middle of December.

“Dale reported he first observed the male bear the day before at his game feeder and that it was alive, but very lethargic and unable to move,” the WRC said in a press release. Dale went back the next day and the bear was dead.

The hunter reported the bear to wildlife officials, who did a necropsy and had researchers at the University of Georgia do more testing on the body, according to earlier reporting by McClatchy.

“Rabies in wild black bears is extremely rare; it has been documented only four times in the lower 48 states since 1999,” Colleen Olfenbuttel, a biologist with the commission, said in a press release. “You can only get rabies by coming in direct contact with the saliva, tears, or brain/nervous tissue of an infected animal.”

Wildlife officials told Dale he would need to get the rabies vaccine as the five-day window when the medication would be effective was closing, according to the Wilmington newspaper.

“I did not know where to go and it was Saturday night at 11 p.m.,” Dale told the newspaper.

With the help of a public health official in Hyde County, Dale found a hospital who could treat him on time.

He told the Star-News: “I had rabies vaccine in the arm, two antibiotic injections in the hip and two in my butt. They said I would have to come back in a week for a rabies vaccine booster and two weeks later for another booster.”

“Rabies is a fatal disease, which can affect all mammals, causing inflammation in the brain with symptoms that can include lethargy, loss of balance, fever, anorexia, and/or eye and nose discharge. Signs progress within days and can include fever; swelling in the head, neck, tongue or eyelids; excessive salivation; difficulty breathing; difficulty swallowing, vomiting; paralysis; abnormal behavior, self-mutilation, aggression, and/or no fear of humans,” the Wildlife Resouces Commission explained in a press release.

North Carolina wildlife officials caution hunters about properly handling bears and any other animals they come in contact with:

  • “Do not handle or eat any animal that is acting abnormal or appears to be sick.
  • “Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing; never handle a dead animal with your bare hands.
  • “Minimize the handling of the brain and spinal cord.
  • “Do not allow pets around your field dressing area to prevent contact with saliva, blood and other tissues.
  • “Wash hands, boots and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
  • “If a deer or bear is commercially processed, request that animal be processed individually and without meat from other animals.
  • “Use proper cooking temperatures to ensure safe food.”

The commission asks anyone who finds a dead bear or a bear acting strangely to call its hotline at 866-318-2401 during business hours or 800-662-7137 during the weekends.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.