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Home* News and Stories → Polar fox with rabies on Hopen

Polar fox with rabies on Hopen

A polar fox was found to have rabies after having atta­cked dogs on the litt­le island Hopen in sou­the­ast Sval­bard, accord­ing to a note by the Sys­sel­man­nen. The fox atta­cked the dogs which belong to the wea­ther sta­ti­on Hopen Meteo on 26 April; it was kil­led by the dogs during the attack. Rou­ti­nely, the fox was taken to Oslo, whe­re it was found to be infec­ted by rabies.

Hopen is in the far sou­the­ast of Sval­bard, 90 kilo­me­tres away from Edgeøya, the next lar­ge island, 200 kilo­me­tres from Spitsbergen’s east coast and almost 300 kilo­me­tres from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It is, howe­ver, easi­ly pos­si­ble that other, infec­ted polar foxes are alrea­dy fur­ther west, whe­re the sett­le­ments are loca­ted and tou­rists have their more com­mon rou­tes, or they may cover the­se distan­ces quick­ly: most sea are­as in the east of the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go are still cove­r­ed by den­se drift ice, whe­re polar foxes are known to tra­vel lar­ge are­as. It is very likely that the rabies virus came with a polar fox from arc­tic Rus­sia, fur­ther away from Hopen than the main island of Spits­ber­gen. This is not the first time rabies is found in Sval­bard; on the long term, it hap­pens actual­ly more or less regu­lar­ly: the virus has been found no less than 7 times sin­ce 1980, inclu­ding the recent inci­dent on Hopen. The last time was in 2011, when rabies was found in rein­de­er and foxes on Hopen, in Horn­sund and near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Rabies on Spitsbergen (Svalbard): Hopen

Polar fox on Edgeøya: curio­si­ty is nor­mal beha­viour, aggres­si­on in con­trast an alarm signal for rabies.

Rabies is dan­ge­rous also for humans: “If you have acci­dent­al­ly touched poten­ti­al­ly infec­ted ani­mals, then wash your hands very care­ful­ly after­wards; washing in dis­in­fec­tant is even bet­ter. Get­ting the virus through bare skin con­ta­ct is near impos­si­ble, but mat­ters are com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent if you have been bit­ten. If you suspect an infec­tion, then it is defi­ni­te­ly advi­sed to con­ta­ct the Sys­sel­man­nen as soon as pos­si­ble. Vac­ci­na­ti­on is pos­si­ble for a short while even after expo­sure to the virus. The risk of actual­ly get­ting infec­ted is very, very low, but if things go real­ly wrong, then the result will be fatal.” (quo­ta­ti­on from Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard gui­de­book)

Unusu­al beha­viour of polar foxes inclu­ding aggres­si­on towards humans or lar­ger ani­mals is a clear warning sign of a rabies infec­tion.

The actu­al risk of infec­tions for humans is very low and the recent epi­so­de does cer­tain­ly not invol­ve any gene­ral risk for tra­vel­ling in Sval­bard, but awa­reness of the situa­ti­on is, as always, important.

By the way, my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (1): Spitz­ber­gen – vom Polar­licht bis zur Mit­ter­nachts­son­ne”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!

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last modification: 2018-05-07 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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