Rabies in Raccoons

In the United States, raccoons are the main animal-carriers of rabies. In fact, most rabies cases in the US are reported in wild animals and raccoon cases are the most predominant. Ninety percent of all the rabies-cases happen in wildlife and research reports in the year 2000 indicate that raccoon-rabies constituted up to 41-percent of wildlife rabies cases.

Geographic Distribution

Rabies in Raccoons was less dominant in America before 1950. However, cases of rabid raccoons started to steadily rise from 1950 to 1970, especially in Georgia and Florida. A different variant that’s distinct from the southern-variant was first detected in West Virginia in 1977 and it has since spread to the Northern side along the eastern-seaboard to Ontario, Canada. This variant was also reported in north-west Ohio in 1996. Both variants of rabies eventually converged in North Carolina.

Most states in America with raccoon rabies have experienced a steady increase of rabies cases but Ohio has reported the least number of cases and this could be as a result of extensive wildlife rabies-control program including the rabies vaccine-baiting. A raccoon can be classified as a Rabies Vector Species (RVS) in some states which means that it is an animal that is capable of carrying and transmitting rabies. Though technically any kind of mammal can carry and transmit rabies, raccoons have the highest risk.

In order to limit human and domestic-animal exposure to rabies, it is important for veterinary officers to know the current geographic-distribution of rabies, the right procedure to follow if a human being or domestic animal is bitten or scratched by a raccoon and also be familiar with the rabies diagnostics. It is also important for the public to learn how to tell if a raccoon is sick.

Signs of Rabies

  • The animal has difficulty in walking. Its hind legs can appear to be fully or partially paralyzed or it walks in circles.
  • Its facial fur appears to be wet and disheveled.
  • It looks disoriented, confused or slow. A healthy raccoon is usually alert.
  • It makes unpleasant noises.
  • The raccoon appears to have “weeping” eyes with salivating, frothing or foaming at the mouth.
  • It appears un-aware of movements and noises around it which usually would send it scurrying to a hidden area.
  • Unexplained lethargy or aggression.

If you come across a raccoon that exhibits any of the above-mentioned signs, do not chase or try to capture the animal but immediately call the nearby animal-control unit. If you or your pet have recently come in close contact with a raccoon that is behaving oddly, seek medical attention immediately.

Note that healthy and rabid raccoons sometimes exhibit the same type of behavior such as being out during the day and  having no fear of humans.

Human and Domestic Animal Exposure to Raccoons

It’s important for veterinary officers to always discourage petting of raccoons. Currently, there are no any approved parenteral-vaccines that can be used in this animals and even prior vaccination fails to warn against testing and euthanasia. Also, captive Raccoons used in exhibition displays could have been incubating rabies before they were caught and it’s therefore necessary to quarantine them for 180-days or more before they are put on exhibitions.

If a human being has been bitten or scratched by a raccoon, the animal should always be treated as rabid. For diagnosis purposes, such a raccoon ought to be euthanized in a humanely way and rabies tests carried on its brain. In case there is a human exposure, the case ought to be reported to the state health department or a nearby local-health center. Raccoon bites and scratches should be washed immediately and thoroughly to reduce the spread of any harmful infection. If someone has been bitten by a rabid raccoon, they should be administered with post-exposure prophylaxis.

Domesticated animals like horses, cows, cats etc. which are exposed to this viral disease should be treated as an exposure. Those animals that have not been vaccinated and are exposed to the rabies virus should be immediately put under euthanasia. In case the owner is not ready to euthanize the animal, it should therefore be placed in a strictly isolated place for six months and then vaccinated a month before its release. If an animal has recently received the rabies vaccination and is exposed to rabies again, it is necessary to re-vaccinate it and put it under observation for 45 days.