I did a talk recently for Third Age Learning in Guelph, and there was an abundance of questions. I didn’t get through them all at the time, so I figured I’d address some of them here:

Do mice carry rabies?

Mice aren’t rabies reservoirs like raccoons, skunks or bats, as they don’t have a rabies virus strain that circulates in the mouse population. Like any mammal, they are susceptible to rabies and can be infected. However, most often when a mouse tangles with a rabid animal, it doesn’t end well for the mouse. If a mouse survived a bite from a rabid animal it could get rabies, but since that’s pretty uncommon, mice are low risk.

Can you talk about foot-and-mouth disease? I heard of someone recently dying from it.

This is another one of those situations where diseases have confusing names.

Foot-and-mouth disease is a viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs. It’s a devastating disease for those species, but of very limited risk to people. The odd human infection has been reported but it’s not really considered to be a significant human health risk.

Hand foot and mouth disease is a completely different disease caused by a completely different virus.  It only affects people, and usually, it causes mild disease characterized by oral lesions and a rash on the and feet in kids. Adults can sometimes become infected and serious infections (including death) can occur, but that’s very rare.

Do skunks pose a problem for cats that walk in the same area?

Not really. Rabies is a concern with skunks but that’s transmitted by bites, not by simply being in the same area (and cats are generally smarter about avoiding skunks compared to dogs).

A more realistic concern would be leptospirosis. Skunks can shed Leptospira bacteria in urine and that can contaminate the environment. We uncommonly see (or at least diagnose) leptospirosis in cats. It’s much more common in dogs, and can also affect people. Overall, though, the risk to cats posed by skunks being in the vicinity is pretty low.

How do you test a raccoon population for rabies?

It involves testing a sample of individual raccoons. Rabies testing in animals requires a brain tissue sample, meaning the animal can only be tested after it’s dead. Raccoon testing is routinely performed when there has been exposure of a person (or sometimes a domestic animal) to the raccoon. It’s done in these cases to make sure the raccoon wasn’t rabid, as that influences management of the person or animal that was bitten/exposed. Beyond that, testing of dead raccoons is sometimes performed for surveillance purposes, to see if raccoon rabies is present in a region. Because of the cost of testing, surveillance testing of this kind is mostly reserved for situations where there’s a concern that raccoon rabies is spreading or where the extent of the disease is being discerned.

More Q&As to follow.