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RI HEALTH

Hiker killed coyote with his bare hands in Rhode Island; coyote was likely rabid

Eastern coyotes inhabit all of Rhode Island, except for Block Island, and are most active at night and around dawn and dusk.JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN

A single rabid coyote was likely behind separate attacks of humans in two Rhode Island towns last week, according to Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management.

A coyote attacked a person walking their dog in Scituate on Thursday, and attacked a man on a hike in Johnston on Friday, according to Johnston Chief of Police Mark Vieira. The state’s DEM confirmed in a news release on Tuesday that it was likely the same animal.

The Johnston man, 58, who’s name has not been released yet, killed the coyote with his bare hands near Belfield Drive, Vieira said. The man suffered minor injuries and was transported to a local hospital.

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“The hiker reported he was able to subdue the coyote by pinning it down by its neck, subsequently suffocating the coyote,” Vieira said. He added that he hasn’t responded to an incident quite like it before.

“This was the first of its kind that I’m aware of,” Vieira said.

The animal’s carcass was taken for testing by DEM environmental police officers, DEM said. The Department of Health’s State Laboratories confirmed the rabies diagnosis.

Rabies is a viral disease acquired from the bite or scratch of a rabid animal.

“Without a post-exposure vaccine series, virtually all cases are fatal,” DEM said.

The rabies vaccination series should be administered as soon as possible to anyone with a known or likely exposure to rabies, including those who received prior pre-exposure prophylaxis, DEM said.

“Along with my peers at RIDOH, I urge anyone in Scituate and Johnston who may have come into contact with the coyote to call the RIDOH Infectious Disease division,” said Rhode Island State Veterinarian Dr. Scott Marshall.

“If pet owners in these two communities believe their pet has interacted with coyote, call or visit your veterinarian to make sure your pet’s rabies vaccination is current.” Pet owners must report a pet’s exposure to the local animal control officer, Marshall said.

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Coyote attacks on humans are rare, DEM said.

“Two attacks in two days four miles apart in bordering communities is much more than coincidental,” DEM said.

All dogs, cats, and ferrets are required by state law to have current vaccination against rabies. Vaccination of pets prevents exposure to people, DEM said.

Eastern coyotes inhabit all of Rhode Island, except for Block Island, and are most active at night and around dawn and dusk. Coyotes are habitat generalists, meaning they can survive in just about any habitat, as long as there is some form of food and shelter, according to the DEM website.

“Coyotes are naturally shy animals, but unnatural interaction with humans, such as feeding, can cause them to become emboldened,” DEM said. “If the public encounters a coyote while outdoors, it will most likely continue on its way. If the coyote stops or is inquisitive, remain calm, make loud noises, try to look big and intimidating, and slowly back away.”

In Rhode Island, coyote mating season runs from December through March, and pups are born in the spring.

In August, health officials said the state had experienced an “unprecedented bat season,” in which hundreds of residents were exposed to bats, and had to get the postexposure prophylaxis vaccine series.

The Department of Health’s Center for Acute Infectious Disease Epidemiology is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. During business hours, call 401-222-2577; during non-business hours, call 401-276-8046.

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This article has been updated with details from the Johnston police and DEM.


Brittany Bowker can be reached at brittany.bowker@globe.com. Follow her @brittbowker and also on Instagram @brittbowker.