Earlier this summer, the state’s first case of a rabid groundhog — which is also known as a woodchuck — was recorded in Oakland County after it bit a woman from Southfield.
While any mammal is capable of being infected with rabies, raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, and coyotes are the animals most likely to be infected with rabies. Meanwhile, small rodents — such as squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, chipmunks, rats, mice, and woodchucks — rarely test positive for rabies. This particular rabid groundhog was infected with a skunk strain of rabies.
“Our natural instinct is to befriend a baby animal, pet one that seems friendly, or help an injured animal. But stray and wild animals should be avoided,” said Kathy Forzley, a health officer for the Oakland County Health Division.
The rabies virus affects the central nervous system, ultimately causing a fatal brain disease. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to many other illnesses and include fever, headache, and general weakness. As the disease progresses, other specific symptoms occur, such as insomnia, anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, agitation, and hypersalivation. After the onset of these symptoms, death usually occurs within days. Once symptoms begin, there is no treatment. However, preventative treatment is available for those potentially exposed to the rabies virus.
The virus is transmitted by infected saliva, usually through a bite.
“Any unprovoked wild mammal that has bitten a human should be euthanized and submitted for rabies testing,” said Dr. Steve Schmitt, Michigan Department of Natural Resources State Wildlife Veterinarian, in a press release. “Save bats for testing if there is even the slightest question of exposure, especially if the bat was found in a sleeping area.”
Domesticated animals may also become infected by wild rabid animals.
“Rabies is out there and owners need to vaccinate their livestock and pets — including horses — and avoid contact with wild animals,” said Dr. Steve Halstead, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development State Veterinarian, in the same press release. “Skunk strain rabies can infect domestic pets and livestock following fights or other contact.”