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better place one squirrel at a time

I was bitten, should I be worried about Disease?

In most cases, if you are bitten by a wild animal you should immediately contact your family physician and

your local health department  who will have up to date information on the prevalence of zoonotic diseases

in your area; as well as, advice for next steps to stave off illness.


Disease transmission from squirrels to humans is very rare  nonetheless, watch for the development of any

flu like symptoms and report your concerns to your doctor.   Squirrel Refuge rehabilitates annually hundreds

of adult, juvenile,  and infant squirrels, and dozens of rabbits and opossums with no incidence of disease

transmission by following good hygienic practices and taking reasonable precautions.  The same is true for

the dozens of raccoons, and other wildlife such as birds, coyote and deer that we facilitated transport  from

Squirrel Refuge to other centers across Washington in 2012.  


We cannot list ever zoonotic disease as many are specific to species and region, so do your research before handling wildlife.  The internet is a great resource.   You may start with the Center for Disease Control,  For example, simply searching for, ‘zoonotic diseases in raccoons’,  ‘zoonotic diseases in Washington Wildlife’, ‘Handling Wildlife,’ or ‘I got bitten by an opossum’ to retrieve a wealth of information.


The most common issue with squirrels result from bite wounds.   Squirrels can inflict bites faster than a snake (Milus, 1999). Bites can easily progress rapidly into a serious infection because squirrels have strong jaws that can inject bacteria deep into  tissues making it difficult to clean. Squirrels bites tend to occur on the hands where bacteria can get into the tissue that surrounds the bones or into a joint and result in osteomyelitis (infection of the bone) or septic arthritis (infection of the joint).   If you are bitten, immediately clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water and immediately seek medical attention at the first sign of infection.  Your doctor may recommend that you get a tetanus shot if its been over five years since you were last vaccinated.  Tetanus is a serious, potentially life-threatening infection that can occur with any puncture wound.


Most zoonotic diseases passed from squirrels to humans are treated with antibiotic therapy, but can become quite serious if left untreated. the risk of an infection  at the site of the bite is always present with any animal bite.


Rabies

To date, no transmission of rabies  from squirrels to humans has ever occurred in the United States.  Squirrels, rabbits and opossums are considered very low risk species.


In 2012 in Washington state, Rabies has been only reported in Bats with 1% infected. In the last 20 years, only two people have died from Rabies, both from Bat bites (Washington State Department of Health, n.d.).  For current information on the prevalence of zoonotic disease in Washington, please refer to the Zoonotic Disease Data and Reports website maintained by the Washington State Department of health. In other states, rabies vector species such as raccoons, foxes, skunks and woodchucks may have been reported in wild populations so please do your research first.  Never handle a bat without wearing thick gloves and never try to catch any  rabid-acting mammal or bat.  Dial 911 and report suspect rabies cases immediately.    For more information on the risk levels for various species, view Washington State Guidelines for Human Rabies Prevention.


Plague

Plague is of serious concern in areas where it is endemic.  Take care to always remove all external parasites (fleas, ticks, flies, lies, mites, etc.) immediately when handing any wildlife. Plague has been associated primarily with prairie dogs but has also been reported in other species of ground squirrels, such as California  ground squirrels and chipmunks, rock squirrels and fox squirrels (CDC, 2011). You can contract plague from an infected animal or more commonly from the fleas that transmit plague to humans.  Indications of plague include swollen or necrotic lymph nodes or abscess near flea or animal bite wounds, loss of appetite, fever, depression, fluid in the lungs   If the squirrel has a heavy flea load, any treatment safe for kittens can be given to a squirrel. A tiny amount of revolution on the back of the neck, flea powder, or 1/5 of a capstar pill given orally will usually resolve the issue.


Leptospirosis

Several species of animals (including ground squirrels) can transmit Leptospirosis through contact of skin with infected urine. (CDC, 2011). Indications that an animal may be sick include blood in the urine from damage to the kidneys and blood vessels.  Leptospirosis should also be suspected when the animal walks with a characteristic highly arched back, demonstrates a reluctance to move quickly and fever.  Some species show bleeding in the eyes giving them a pink appearance. In later stages the eyes may be yellow as the result of jaundiced (The Leptospirosis Information Center, n.d.)


Tularemia

Tularemia is a highly infectious pathogenic bacteria that can be transmitted either through contact with an infected animal’s bodily fluids or body parts, infected water and tick bites (also possible through mites, mosquitoes, fleas, lice and biting flies).  Tularemia causes rapid death in squirrels that may appear otherwise healthy.  The animal may show signs of depression, elevated body temperature or lethargy.   Symptoms in humans are similar to the flu and Plague so diagnosis needs to be confirmed trough lab tests. Tell your doctor if you suspect you may have been exposed to tularemia.  In Washington state reported cases of Tularemia are rare, ranging from one to ten per year (Washington State Department of Health, 2011).


Diseases directly transmitted by rodents            Diseases indirectly transmitted by rodents

Zoonotic disease in Wildlife