Diseases Skunks Carry
When there’s a skunk in the neighborhood it’s hard not to know about
it. The powerful scent that follows them as they move about is
usually enough to convince other animals, including people, to leave
them alone. And well they should: skunks are not just little
stinkers; they are also known to carry a number of diseases that are
dangerous to humans and to both domesticated and other wild animals.
Transmission can occur in multiple ways: from bugs that have bitten
an infected animal; from handling or ingesting food or water
contaminated by skunk feces; or directly from bites or scratches of
an infected animal.
The most widely feared among these perils is rabies, a severe viral
disease that affects the central nervous system of warm-blooded
animals. Skunks are the Number Two carrier of the rabies virus,
accounting for almost 30 percent of reported cases. It is estimated
that rabies is responsible for some 55,000 deaths annually
worldwide. Recovery is possible but treatment is a long and painful
Infected skunks are sometimes unusually aggressive: chasing, biting,
clawing and generally representing danger to people and pets. At the
other end of the behavior spectrum, they may appear confused and
lethargic, wandering in circles and approaching people and pets
Another serious ailment that is easy to catch is Leptospirosis, a
bacterial infection that is most commonly passed to humans through
water, soil or food that has been contaminated by the urine of an
infected animal. The bacterium can also be communicated in other
ways, for example through swimming in infected water. Flu-like
symptoms are most common, with jaundice, kidney or liver failure and
ultimately death in the most severe cases.
Along with these are a number of relatively common afflictions
traceable to parasites, such as toxoplamosis and giardiasis. The
former manifests with flu-like symptoms and while it ultimately
disappears, it can reoccur. Giardiasis causes diarrhea and while a
serious problem, it goes away either on its own or under treatment.
Several viral ailments can also be carried by skunks and passed
along to humans. Among these are distemper, which causes several
physical problems and which in its most severe form can be fatal;
canine hepatitis, which attacks the liver; parvovirus, which causes
fever, chills and diarrhea; feline panleukopenia, which is similar
to parvo and which causes serious and usually bloody diarrhea,
severe dehydration, malnutrition, and anemia.
In fact there are as many as s40 diseases that humans can contract
directly or indirectly from skunks. As with other wildlife, the
animals are best left to themselves.
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