No rabies found in wolves blamed in teacher death

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Two wolves suspected of killing a teacher outside a rural Alaska village did not have rabies, lab tests concluded today.

The animals were shot Monday from the air by state wildlife employees, who said they matched descriptions of the wolves seen where Candice Berner, 32, was killed while jogging last week.

Berner died March 8 along a road about a mile outside Chignik Lake on the Alaska Peninsula in southwest Alaska.

An autopsy concluded she had been killed by animals, and state public safety officials said wolves were suspected. Berner’s body was dragged and surrounded by wolf tracks, indicating more that as many as four animals could have attacked.

Wolves recently had been spotted on the outskirts of the village of 105, prompting residents to arm themselves.

State game officials announced they would try to kill wolves in the area and two were shot from a helicopter Monday about five miles west of Chignik Lake. The carcasses were flown to Fairbanks for review by the state wildlife veterinarian and by microbiologists at the Alaska State Virology Laboratory.

Microbiologists studied the brains of the wolves and found no indication of rabies, a virus that often makes animals aggressive and more likely to bite.

“Rabies remains a risk to both people and animals living in the Alaska Peninsula, as well as in other parts of northern and western Alaska where rabies is known to exist,” said Louisa Castrodale, a veterinarian and epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Social Services.

Outbreaks of the virus occasionally turn up in the fox population, and foxes often tangle with sled dogs.

State health officials in 2006 detected exposure to rabies in three Western Alaska villages and some residents bitten by a rabid dog or fox, or exposed to a rabid dog’s saliva, were treated with a monthlong series of inoculations.

Rabies is usually transmitted through bite wounds. The virus attacks the central nervous system, and without prompt treatment, rabies is fatal.

“Animals may bite people when they are sick,” Castrodale said. “That said, animals also may bite when they are not sick but are startled, hungry or being protective of other animals around them.”

The Department of Fish and Game is testing the wolf carcasses for other diseases, including distemper virus.

Department officials announced Wednesday that they were calling off the hunt for additional wolves at Chignik Lake. They said they would stay in close contact with residents and may conduct a second search in early April.

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