Most wild animals in your area — such as squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks — are totally harmless. They hang around neighborhoods because it’s easier to find food where humans live, but they’re terrified of us. Unless, of course, they’re carrying a deadly rabies virus.
Rabies isn’t anywhere close to the deadliest diseases in the United States. But it has an alarmingly high mortality rate in those who do get infected but don’t get treated in time.
These are the animals in the U.S. most likely to give you rabies with a single bite — and how to tell if you or a wild animal needs help.
You can’t usually tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it. But there are a few key warning signs that could signal the presence of a rabid bat. Bats who are out during the day or in unusual places, such as your home, might have the virus.
Even though there are only a few cases of rabies nationwide each year, coming into contact with bats is the most common way people in the U.S. contract the deadly infection.
If a skunk is active during the day, acting aggressively, making noise, or appears to be having a seizure, it’s safe to assume it’s been infected.
But animals don’t have to show symptoms of rabies to transmit the virus to people. It’s possible to pass on the infection before symptoms emerge, because the virus has a long incubation period — it stays hidden in the body, but is still infectious.
Most people in the United States with pets — especially small pets, such as cats — know how important it is to protect against wild coyotes. But even if your pet survives an attack, if they’re bitten by a rabid coyote, you’re in just as much danger as they are.
If you see a coyote foaming at the mouth, acting with extreme aggression, or behaving strangely (running into things or stumbling), avoid coming into contact with the animal and report it to local authorities.
According to the Humane Society, seeing foxes during the day is considered normal. Foxes are scared of humans, and will usually run in the opposite direction if they see you — unless they’ve learned to associate you with food. Still, they’re only dangerous to humans if they have rabies or if they’ve been captured.
If a fox does approach you or your family, you can typically scare it away by making a loud noise. If you want to keep foxes away from your pets, keep them indoors. Most adult cats and dogs aren’t in any danger, but size does matter.
A rabid raccoon might make unusual amounts of noise, have wet-looking fur, or appear oblivious to nearby noise or movement that would normally scare it away. Raccoons are sometimes active during the day, so this usually isn’t a concern. But alert authorities if you notice it wandering around aimlessly or deliberately hurting itself.
Raccoons usually don’t survive longer than three days when infected with rabies, so your chances of getting infected by these guys are lower than most. Still, it’s never a good idea to approach a raccoon, especially if it’s acting strange.
Symptoms of rabies to be aware of
Rabies symptoms in humans vary from moderate to more severe. Moderate symptoms might include:
- Excessive salivation.
Severe rabies symptoms may involve:
- Partial paralysis
- Difficulty swallowing
Unfortunately, once a person starts experiencing symptoms of rabies, they’re almost guaranteed to die from the infection. This is why you should get a rabies vaccine as soon as possible if you think an infected animal has bitten you. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
How to prevent rabies
Once you have it, there’s little chance you’ll survive it. But rabies is completely preventable if you follow experts’ advice:
- Vaccinate your pets
- Keep your pets indoors, and supervise them when outdoors
- Report stray animals
- Don’t approach wild animals
- Keep bats out of your home.
Rabies is highly uncommon, but your chances of surviving significantly improve when you seek medical attention right away after a wild animal bite. Don’t take your chances: A vaccine could save your life.
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