Rabid Beaver Attacks Girl On Lake Lanier

GON Staff | July 13, 2023

This is a stock photo of a beaver—not the beaver that had rabies and bit a girl on Lake Lanier before being beaten to death with a boat paddle.

A 12-year-old girl is undergoing a series of rabies shots after a beaver lunged out of the water and bit her. The girl was climbing a ladder or about to get on the ladder at a boat dock when the beaver latched on to her leg, dragging her into the lake.

Don McGowan, a biologist and WRD Game Management Region Supervisor who works in the nearby Gainesville office, said that in his 26-year career with DNR, this is the first instance he’s heard of where a rabid beaver bit a person.

“We’ve had beavers that have been tested and were positive for rabies, but not a bite of a human by a beaver with rabies,” Don said.

Sgt. Tim Butler with DNR Law Enforcement responded to the scene.

“I showed up and Hall County Fire and EMS were on scene, and the girl was already on her way to the hospital,” Sgt. Butler said. “They said it was a through-and-through bite, but I didn’t see it, so I’m not sure it went all the way through—it could have been a top and bottom bite. But she needed medical attention.”

Not that a beaver bite isn’t horrific enough—they can chew through trees. But this beaver didn’t bite the girl and swim away—it wasn’t letting go.

“A man grabbed a boat paddle and hit it enough to kill it. They said they were afraid the beaver was about to pull her under and drown her,” Sgt. Butler said. “The other game warden I was with, we both said it weighed 60 pounds. That’s about as big as you’re going to see in Georgia. We looked around and didn’t see a sign of a beaver lodge, so we suspected it might have rabies.”

Sgt. Butler said beavers are not uncommon on Lake Lanier. He’s been seeing them often, almost weekly, including a pair that are common around the DNR boat house on the lake.

The incident occurred in the Sardis Creek area of Lake Lanier not far from Sardis Creek Park, a Corps of Engineers ramp and facility. Sardis Creek is on the northwest part of the lake just above the Dawsonville Highway bridge (Highway 53). Hall County officials have put up signs in the area warning people of rabies. They’re asking nearby residents to watch for animals acting abnormally and urging them to vaccinate pets against the viral disease.

Biologist Don McGowan said rabies is only transmitted animal to animal, and it can’t be transmitted airborne. Asked how a beaver might have contracted rabies, Don said, “I’m only speculating, but maybe from a raccoon, which like to be around the water. Maybe the beaver came into contact with a rabid raccoon, or maybe even a bat. Or even another rabid beaver. I just got a call from a man who lives on a neighborhood lake that flows into Lake Lanier in that area, and he said they encounter beavers all the time.”

He added, “I can’t imagine how traumatizing this has been for this girl. Hopefully it’s a one-off… a once-in-career instance.”

How Is Rabies Spread?
Rabies spreads from one mammal to another when an infected animal bites another animal. The rabies virus is transmitted in the infected animal’s saliva. Rarely, rabies is spread when infectious material from a rabid animal, such as saliva, comes into contact with mucous membranes such as the eyes, nose, mouth or a wound.

Treatment For People Bitten By Animals With Rabies

According to the Mayo Clinic, “If you’ve been bitten by an animal that is known to have rabies, you’ll receive a series of shots to prevent the rabies virus from infecting you. Rabies shots include: A fast-acting shot (rabies immune globulin) to prevent the virus from infecting you. This is given if you haven’t had the rabies vaccine. This injection is given near the area where the animal bit you if possible, as soon as possible after the bite. A series of rabies vaccinations to help your body learn to identify and fight the rabies virus. Rabies vaccinations are given as injections in your arm. If you haven’t previously had the rabies vaccines, you’ll receive four injections over 14 days. If you have had the rabies vaccine, you’ll have two injections over the first three days.

“Once a rabies infection is established, there’s no effective treatment. Though a small number of people have survived rabies, the disease usually causes death. For that reason, if you think you’ve been exposed to rabies, you must get a series of shots to prevent the infection from taking hold,” the Mayo Clinic states on its website page about rabies.

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