Tests Confirm Rabies in Black Bear Found Dead

A black bear found dead in North Carolina tested positive for rabies — the first known case of a rabies positive black bear in the state.

Tests Confirm Rabies in Black Bear Found Dead

A black bear found dead in North Carolina tested positive for rabies, the first known case for a black bear in the state.

The yearling male bear was found in Hyde County near a game feeder by Johnny Dale, of Fairfield, N.C., on Dec. 17, according to officials with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Dale contacted WRC officials and said he saw the bear alive near the feeder the day before but it was lethargic and unable to move.

Because the cause of death was not obvious, Commission personnel conducted an initial necropsy and sent the bear to researchers at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) at the University of Georgia for further testing. On Dec. 21, SCWDS informed the Commission the bear had rabies, which had resulted in its death.

“Rabies in wild black bears is extremely rare; it has been documented only four times in the lower 48 states since 1999,” Colleen Olfenbuttel, the Commission’s black bear and furbearer biologist, said in a statement. “You can only get rabies by coming in direct contact with the saliva, tears, or brain/nervous tissue of an infected animal.”

The North Carolina Division of Public Health was contacted and provided recommendations to Dale regarding post-exposure treatment.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a fatal disease, which can affect all mammals, causing inflammation in the brain with symptoms that can include lethargy, loss of balance, fever, anorexia, and/or eye and nose discharge. Signs progress within days and can include fever; swelling in the head, neck, tongue or eyelids; excessive salivation; difficulty breathing; difficulty swallowing, vomiting; paralysis; abnormal behavior, self-mutilation, aggression and/or no fear of humans.

The Commission offers the same precautions to bear hunters as it does for deer hunters to prevent disease transmission:

  • Do not handle or eat any animal that is acting abnormal or appears to be sick.
  • Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing; never handle a dead animal with your bare hands.
  • Minimize the handling of the brain and spinal cord.
  • Do not allow pets around your field dressing area to prevent contact with saliva, blood and other tissues.
  • Wash hands, boots and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
  • If a deer or bear is commercially processed, request that animal be processed individually and without meat from other animals.
  • Use proper cooking temperatures to ensure safe food.


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