WASHINGTON — A fox that bit at least nine people on Capitol Hill, including possibly a congressman, tested positive for rabies on Wednesday, city health officials said, after being euthanized on a bend dark in an episode that had briefly captivated those who live and work around Congress.
“The DC Public Health Lab has confirmed that the fox captured yesterday tested positive for the rabies virus,” a statement from the city’s health agency said, advising anyone who had come into contact with the animal or his offspring to contact the authorities. “DC Health is contacting all human victims who have been bitten by the fox.”
Washington health officials said earlier today the vixen had been euthanized so she could be tested for rabies, sending an outpouring of grief for an animal that had become something of a mascot during its brief wanderings near the Capitol. But in a time of pandemic precautions and contact tracing, the diagnosis sparked speculation about who might have been exposed.
Rep. Ami Bera, D-California, who said he was bitten by a fox near the Capitol on Monday night and was treated shortly after, said Wednesday he felt “in good health” and was back to work.
Ximena Bustillo, food and agriculture policy reporter for Politico who had been bitten on Tuesdaysaid she was not contacted by DC Health officials about the positive rabies test before the announcement went public.
It was not immediately clear what additional measures would be taken for the local fox population following the positive test. No other foxes were found on the Capitol Hill grounds, according to an earlier statement from DC Health, but it would not be uncommon to see more.
The status of the other bite victims was unknown. Treatments for rabies, a disease that can be fatal, should be started “as soon as possible after exposure,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The late vixen’s children — known as kits — were also found on the Capitol grounds and picked up Wednesday morning, DC Health said. Officials said they were still figuring out what to do with the kits.
The Capitol Fox, as she was christened earlier in the week while roaming the Capitol grounds, was captured by animal control officers from the Humane Rescue Alliance on Tuesday afternoon. Capitol Police and the Humane Rescue Alliance did not say at the time what would happen to the animal, referring questions to the city’s health department.
His presence had become a springtime diversion on Capitol Hill this week as lawmakers, aides and reporters reacted with bewilderment, admiration and a hint of fear to reports of a wild fox on the loose biting and nipping at passers-by.
At press conferences, Senate leaders were asked if they had seen her. Photos and videos of foxes scurrying in and out of bushes and chasing squirrels in the field have leaked onto social media. The Capitol police repeatedly warned the occupants against the approach of the fox. Bustillo was bitten from behind in broad daylight.
And then came the revelation that Bera had been bitten in what he described as an unprovoked encounter on Monday night, and received treatment for tetanus and rabies – seven shots that night, one in both buttocks – at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“Despite the dust, I have no hard feelings or grudges against” the Capitol Fox, Bera said hours before the announcement that she had been shot – and later that she was enraged. He had wished her a happy and prosperous future.
“Rep. Bera is sad to hear this news,” a spokesperson said before the test results were announced.
The most common tests for rabies require a sample of brain tissue and can only be done post-mortem, according to the CDC. As foxes are among the most common animals in Washington to carry rabies, and with nine confirmed bite cases under its belt, the Capitol Fox’s fate was sealed.
City health officials did not say whether they linked this fox to the Bera attack.
But they made it clear that it was up to humans to prevent further fox killings.
“DC Health will not survey healthy foxes in the area,” the statement said, adding that the agency “intervenes to remove wild animals only if they are sick or injured or when exposure to humans has occurred and that rabies testing would be warranted.”
In other words: Stay away from wild foxes, no matter how soft their fur or how cute their little eyes. And whatever you do, don’t get bitten by one. Lives are at stake.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.