THOMASVILLE -- Thomasville-Thomas County Animal Control has some potentially bad news for pet owners.

In the last three months, there have been 15 reported sightings of wild foxes exhibiting unusual behavior in the Northeastern part of Thomas County. After investigating the sightings and some testing, Animal Control has come to the conclusion these foxes may be infected with the Distemper Virus.

The Distemper Virus affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous system. It is found in all bodily secretions but requires contact for transmission to occur. An animal inhales the virus, which is then engulfed by macrophages and transported to the tonsils' regional lymph nodes where it will replicate for two to six days. It is highly contagious and often fatal to animals but cannot be transmitted to humans.

"Humans cannot get it. This is a natural occurrence in the wild," said Pat Smith, spokesperson for Animal Control. Animals susceptible to the virus include dogs, wolves, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, skunks and ferrets. Many of the virus' symptoms are the same as rabies but, due to the number of sightings, Smith stresses that any animal showing symptoms similar to rabies may have Distemper and should be taken to a veterinarian for treatment.

"Twenty to thirty years ago Distemper was very common," said Dr. Danny Culbreth of Thomasville Animal Hospital. "We don't see it very regularly now."

According to Culbreth, the most common symptoms animals have when brought in are upper-respiratory infections, nasal drainage and matting of the eyes. Some sure signs that an animal has Distemper are high fevers and seizures. Other symptoms include coughing, labored breathing, vomiting, muscle twitching and spasms, paralysis and diarrhea. Any pets showing signs of these symptoms should be taken to a veterinarian for treatment.

The best form of treatment is prevention. Pet owners can protect their animals by making sure all vaccinations are administered to their animals and kept up-to-date. There is a vaccination for Distemper but it should be administered before contact with an animal carrying the virus. Any animal that has been vaccinated should be able to fight off infection, but those that have not run the risk of contracting the virus.

"There is no drug that has an affect on it," said Culbreth, pointing out that Distemper is a viral infection. Secondary aliments that pop up can be cured but the original virus will have to run its course.

Animal Control officials ask that anyone who sees a fox or other animal exhibiting any of these symptoms or unusual behavior to contact them at (229) 228-0613 or call 911. Please do not attempt to touch the animal.

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