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).

  1. If you see a raccoon out in the daytime, it is probably rabid.  MYTH!
  2. Raccoons are cat-killers.  MYTH!
  3. Raccoons are exceptionally loyal.  FACT!
  4. Raccoons must wash their food because they produce no saliva.  MYTH!
  5. Raccoons can eat almost anything.  FACT!
  6. Raccoons make good pets.  MYTH!
  7. Raccoon roundworm can be passed to humans.  FACT!
  8. Raccoons’ hind feet that can turn backwards to climb down trees head first.  FACT!
  9. Raccoons aren’t harmed by cat or dog diseases.  MYTH.
  10. 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.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MFkyahZFPA&w=420&h=315]

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.

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Sobek

Excessive fear of wild animals, especially predators, probably has something to do with the following:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mean_world_syndrome

The world is indeed a harsh place in many ways, but people are also prone to imagining threats that simply aren’t there.

Amanda

Yep! Nice resource, I’d never heard of Mean World Syndrome but it’s certainly been my experience in talking to people who watch a lot of TV and become fearful of many illnesses, crimes, animals etc.

Derek

I’ve never seen a raccoon in good light – although I did have to restrain a dog one time who had one treed! I don’t know who was more scared, me or the raccoon! I had a large breed dog and until that moment I had never really thought about the size of the teeth and jaws of my “gentle giant” Great Pyrenees and how much danger I could be in if she ever decided I was a threat. Fortunately, the raccoon sensed it’s opportunity to escape – my Pyr settled down (I think she was actually trying to protect… Read more »

Amanda

Yeah it was my first time seeing one completely in light too! It led me to do all that research on it, since I’d heard daytime raccoons are rabid – fortunately only a myth – and I’ve learned so much about them now! I’ve read a lot of the works of Sterling North, such as Raccoons are the Brightest People, and truly enjoy seeing Waffles outside our window 🙂 I don’t think there’s much of a huge risk from bats either. I’ve only ever seen a bat once in my whole life! But you’re right, doggies and kitties are the… Read more »

littlesundog

Great post! As an animal/bird rehabilitator, I am always learning about our furry, hairy and feathered friends. I try to Google for information on each species as I acquire something new. Sometimes I seek help from other rehab facilities. Isn’t it fun to observe wildlife and learn to appreciate their part in our ecosystem? We all need to learn to share space on this planet… being kind and respectful is the first step!

Amanda

Your life is so cool….so INCREDIBLY cool! Today I am at the stage where I learn about birdhouses, and just got my first bluebird house crafted locally at the Farmer’s Market. This week also marked my first success attracting hummingbirds, and a Ruby Throated male flew 2 feet from my head this morning as I weeded the herb garden 🙂

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