Philadelphians contending with crime and troubled public schools have a new concern: rabid beavers.
The state Game Commission announced yesterday that a rabies test came back positive for a beaver blamed for attacking a couple and a child in recent days along a city waterway.
The location at Pennypack Creek in the city's northeastern region was a surprise, although Philadelphia is flanked by two major rivers and various smaller tributaries.
"It's not that beavers are not susceptible, as all mammals are susceptible, to rabies," said commission spokesman Jerry Feaser. "But a beaver in Philadelphia, that was just truly bizarre."
A married couple was fishing on Wednesday when a large beaver bit the woman's leg, then turned on her husband and bit him in both arms and on his chest, the commission said. On Thursday, a child was bitten, and a short time later a park ranger located a beaver 500 yards away.
That animal was killed and tested positive for rabies at a Health Department lab.
Another rabid beaver attacked an angler in late April on White Clay Creek in Chester County.
The man heard a splash and turned around to seek a beaver swimming toward him. It bit him on the back of his leg and made another attempt, so the fisherman grabbed the animal - taking another bite to the hand in the process - and was able to drown it. That beaver also was found to be infected with rabies.
Feaser said the attacks are the only such cases he recalls during 12 years with the commission.
"Our furbearer biologist, when he heard about this, he was just literally blown away," Feaser said.
The state Agriculture Department, which investigates rabies cases, fielded no reports of rabid beavers in 2009 or 2010. Pennsylvania normally has between 350 and 500 confirmed rabies cases annually. Last year slightly more than half the cases were raccoons, followed in frequency by skunks, cats, bats and foxes.
The state's most recent rabies fatality for humans occurred in 1984, when a 12-year-old Lycoming County boy died.