A new strain of rabies has been discovered in southern New Mexico, federal and state health officials have confirmed. While it doesn't present any more of a public health threat than the known strains of the potentially fatal disease, the discovery is generating curiosity in scientific circles because it's the first new strain to be found in the US in years. "It's exciting. It's related to another bat strain. It's similar but unique, so the question is what's the reservoir for this strain," state public health veterinarian Paul Ettestad says, referring to animals known to host the virus.
Bats, skunks, and raccoons usually aren't tested because it's assumed they have regular strains of rabies, Ettestad says, but tests are done when it shows up in other animals, including dogs, cats, horses, and foxes. That was the case when a 78-year-old Lincoln County woman was bitten by a rabid fox in April. Genetic testing at a CDC lab confirmed the strain was one that had never before been identified. Officials suspect the rabid fox came in contact with an infected bat that was carrying the strain. "It has probably been out there for some time. We just haven't looked that hard for it and by chance we found it," Ettestad says of the new strain. The woman who was bitten by the fox is now OK, KOAT reports. (Read more rabies stories.)