Rabid Fox and Her Kits Euthanized After Nine People Were Bitten on Capitol Hill

Bite victims included a reporter and a U.S. congressman

Fox in D.C.
The fox walks near Upper Senate Park. Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

A rabid red fox that bit nine people around Capitol Hill was euthanized earlier this week. Her three kits were also euthanized, per NPR’s Fernando Alfonso III and Jonathan Franklin. 

The mother fox had been spotted multiple times earlier in the week “exhibiting unusual aggression” and “traveling blocks to attack people,” Lauren Crossed, a wildlife program manager at the Humane Rescue Alliance whose crews were involved in the capture of the fox, tells the Washington Post’s Dana Hedgpeth. 

“We have received several reports of aggressive fox encounters on or near the grounds of the U.S. Capitol,” U.S. Capitol Police tweeted on April 5. “For your safety, please do not approach any foxes. Animal Control Officers are working to trap and relocate any foxes they find.”

Later that day, the police tweeted an update that the vixen had been captured.

To determine whether an animal has rabies, the “gold standard” is testing the animal’s brain, including the cerebellum and brain stem, explains Leyi Wang, a veterinary virologist at the University of Illinois, to Slate’s Sarah Braner. Completing this brain test requires euthanization, per the CDC. Officials confirmed the next day that the fox had tested positive for rabies, according to NPR. 

"Since the mother tested positive for the rabies virus and the kits could have been exposed during grooming or other means, they were no longer able to be safely rehabilitated and were humanely euthanized," the D.C. Department of Health said in a statement, NPR reports. 

U.S. Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) was attacked by the fox on Monday and scared it off using his umbrella, Punchbowl News’ Heather Caygle reports on Twitter. He later received the appropriate shots at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. 

Politico reporter Ximena Bustillo was also among the fox’s victims. 

Bustillo was on her way home from a House Agriculture Committee hearing on Tuesday when she felt an “aggressive pinch and scratch” on her left ankle, she writes for Politico

“I screamed quite loudly, thinking I’d either been bitten by a squirrel (one stared me down on the way in) or a rat (there’s so many!),” she writes  “As I whipped around, the orange fox darted in front of me.”

Bustillo took an Uber to the hospital to receive several shots. 

About 5,000 rabies cases in animals are reported each year to the CDC, with bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes as the main disease hosts. Human fatalities are rare in the U.S., as the rabies vaccine is nearly 100 percent effective when taken before symptoms start. Last year, the U.S. recorded five deaths from rabies, the highest in a decade. Worldwide, rabies kills about 59,000 people per year. Without a vaccine, the fatality rate is nearly 100 percent. 

“D.C. Health will not be doing a roundup of healthy foxes in the area,” according to an official statement, per the New York Times Chris Cameron. The agency “only intervenes to remove wildlife if they are sick or injured or where an exposure to humans has occurred and rabies testing would be warranted.”