Tag Archives: Alaska Division of Public Health

A Rabies Update

First off, I want to apologize for my neglect of this blog. I’m sorry for those that came here and were disappointed to find that there hasn’t been anything new written in the last two weeks or so.

Next, I would like to update my post about rabies after hearing a presentation by Donald G. Ritter, a retired Alaska Division of Public Health employee.  On Friday he presented a 37-year Record of Animal Cases and Human Exposures of rabies at UAF. I had no idea about some of the facts he informed his audience of.

  • 55,000 people die from rabies annually.
  • There have been three documented cases of death  by rabies virus in humans in Alaska.
  • River otters can infect humans with the virus.
  • Rabies in Alaska is most commonly found on the coast.

Watch out for this guy...

My favorite story told by Ritter was of a 72-year-old hunter named Panuekuk Samson from Noorvik. Samson was out with his dog team in January, 1942, when he saw a strange black dog attacking one of his. He picked up a big block of hard snow and threw it at the stray. The black beast turned around and revealed itself to be a rabid wolf. When the wolf attacked Samson, he somehow got it into a headlock and said he kept it for 30 minutes.  When he finally felt the animal go limp, he released it only to be attacked again. The wolf bit him on the back of his head, neck and on his thigh badly. Samson managed to stab the wolf several times, and finally the wolf ran off. It soon attacked another dog team and was shot by its musher, who discovered the stab wounds.

Samson wrapped his thigh wound, climbed into his dog sled and told his dogs to take him home. The team brought him 40 miles back to Noorvik where a nurse attended him for days before a doctor from Kotzebue could arrive. When the doctor finally made it, the old hunter made a show of how healthy he was, and declined any treatment. In March he died of the virus’s consequences.

I can just picture the old man denying help when he thought he had healed nicely. Going out by wolf attack would be a little more valiant than old age, though.

The odds are good for Roderick Phillip who was attacked earlier this fall. He received treatment not long after the wolf nipped him, and he should be calmed by the small numbers of reported deaths in Alaska.


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