Raccoons and Rabies
Waffles raccoon paid us a visit during the day April 12th.
It was the first time I had seen a raccoon in daylight. I grabbed the camera, skidding across the hard floor in my socks, and half-panted back to the window. To avoid risky encounters and not scare animals away, I prefer to watch wildlife from our windows or to observe them from my wooded trail into town, where I saw a beautiful deer last week out in the open field. Raccoons are easily admirable for their gymnastic skills, as you’ll see in the video. It’s a myth that a raccoon seen during the day must have rabies, and I decided to dig up some other facts on raccoons in Arkansas:
See Raccoon Myths and Facts from Rancho Racoon to read the explanations to the myths & facts below (first click the link, then scroll down to the mid-bottom of the page).
- If you see a raccoon out in the daytime, it is probably rabid. MYTH!
- Raccoons are cat-killers. MYTH!
- Raccoons are exceptionally loyal. FACT!
- Raccoons must wash their food because they produce no saliva. MYTH!
- Raccoons can eat almost anything. FACT!
- Raccoons make good pets. MYTH!
- Raccoon roundworm can be passed to humans. FACT!
- Raccoons’ hind feet that can turn backwards to climb down trees head first. FACT!
- Raccoons aren’t harmed by cat or dog diseases. MYTH.
- Raccoons do nothing helpful for humans, just eat up our garbage and nest in our houses! MYTH!
So what’s the truth about raccoons and rabies? Are we all going to get bitten if we don’t shoot every raccoon dead? Is there no harm in keeping a raccoon as a pet? According to Wikipedia’s raccoon page,
“Of the 6,940 documented rabies cases reported in the United States in 2006, 2,615 (37.7%) were in raccoons. Only one human fatality has been reported after transmission of the rabies virus from a raccoon.“
According to the Center for Disease Control, only one human death associated with raccoon rabies has ever been documented. That was in Virginia in 2003, where there is a much higher likelihood that raccoons will be carrying rabies in those populations on the east coast. But how many people get rabies from raccoons, or attacked by rabid ones in Arkansas?
As of 2011, “The fox and raccoon variant of the virus have not been reported in Arkansas,” states the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “Rabies in people is very rare in the U.S., which averages 1 to 2 rabies deaths a year.” We’re most likely to get rabies from pets which haven’t received vaccinations, especially cats, which are not vaccinated against rabies as often as dogs (CDC 2009). Find out more about how to protect yourself against rabies Here.
The Arkansas Department of Health backs up the claim that raccoons in Arkansas are not the likeliest carriers for rabies in the state:
“In Arkansas, the most commonly infected animals are skunks and bats. Rabies in raccoons is rare in Arkansas and has only been documented once. Arkansas does not have the raccoon variant, or type, of rabies, which is very common in all of the eastern states. But this does not mean a raccoon cannot get rabies from skunks or bats, and contact with raccoons should be avoided.” Visit their website for more info.
“It’s extremely, extremely rare to see rabies in raccoons here in Arkansas,” said Blake Sasse, a biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Read more here. So how are most human cases of rabies created?
97% of human rabies cases come from dog bites, according to Wikipedia. But vaccinating dogs in the USA against rabies has helped to almost eliminate dogs as carriers of the disease. The New York Times online health guide says that there have been no reports of rabies caused by dog bites recently, thanks to this vaccine.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ht_e0In7JAs&w=420&h=315]
The World Health Organization says that worldwide, “dogs are the source of 99% of human rabies deaths.” This is mostly in developing countries not using widespread vaccines. “Bats are the source of most human rabies deaths in the United States of America and Canada. Bat rabies has also recently emerged as a public health threat in Australia, Latin America and western Europe. Human deaths following exposure to foxes, raccoons, skunks, jackals, mongooses and other wild carnivore host species are very rare.”
Finally, this Arkansas Rabies Map from 2004 suggests that in Northwest Arkansas, skunks are much more likely carriers than raccoons. But if we follow common sense guidelines around wildlife, such as not hand-feeding them, eating their poop, and maintaining a healthy distance from them and their young, we can still enjoy wildlife without killing them off or fearing for our lives if a raccoon stops at our birdfeeder.