The rabid raccoon was in our yard this morning. (We live at Chestnut and Wyman.) It charged toward my husband repeatedly, and bit him on the leg. We called the police and animal control. About an hour later, someone from the Animal Rescue League came by. (No police, no animal control.) By then, the raccoon had left our yard, and gone through neighboring back yards headed toward Danforth Street.
According to the Animal Rescue League person, if the raccoon were rabid, it would probably not be eating, because when they have rabies they get a sore throat and don't eat much. (It was eating things in our yard.) But the other likely non-rabies reason for a raccoon to be aggressive would be to protect its young, and that wouldn't explain its continuing to be aggressive as it left our yard, or its actions a few blocks away.
So if you see a raccoon, especially out in the daytime (they are nocturnal), run away. It may likely chase you--run faster.
I wanted to thank the police officers and animal control officers for spending so much of the day hunting down the raccoon and capturing it. One of the police officers I talked to said he was on his way to our house to respond to our call this morning when he got another call that the raccoon was sighted up by Paul Gore and Boylston, so he went there instead of coming to our house. He came by after the raccoon was caught to get our information.
It will be interesting to learn if the raccoon was rabid or not. It repeatedly charged my husband (each time, as soon as it saw him), which seems so unlike normal raccoon behavior, I would imagine it was because the raccoon was rabid or has some other disease. And apparently the raccoon also charged toward another person, and when she ran into her house, it tried to get in her door. Very strange behavior.
Does this mean, if the raccoon was rabid and bit cats or dogs, that the pets could get rabies and pass it along to us? I don't know much about rabies.
Thanks again to the police for removing this non-human menace!
Joseph kindly asked if I would use my biologist background and weigh in on this coon madness (Sorry, bad joke. Rabies means madness in Latin), so hey, let's talk about coon diseases!
Rabies: What is it?
Rabies is a virus that causes inflammation of the brain. It is transmitted primarily through saliva (biting) or through the breathing of humid vapor in dense colony animals such as bats. The frequent carriers of rabies are skunks, raccoons, bats and fox (but dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, cows are not immune). Symptoms can include manic movement, lethergy, pain (to be expected when your brain is swelling) , throat spasms, seizures, hydrophobia, photophobia (fear of light) and delirium.
In short, it is pretty nasty.
Distemper: What is it?
Distemper is a virus. Usually known as canine or feline distemper. This is will address canine.
Canine distemper is transmitted through saliva to mammals through bites and contact points such as outdoor water bowls. The symptoms are quite close to those of rabies: lack of fear, anorexia, eye and nose leakage, the "drunken or 'braced' walk", disorientation, vomiting, labored breathing and neurological impacts. Distemper may also show hardened callouses on the nose or feet.
In short, it is pretty nasty too.
Sarcoptic Mange:What is it?
Sacroptic Mange is the result of the flesh burying bug, the mange mite. It is observed through hair loss, a "slicking" where the hair loss has become infected and pus is oozing, blindness, hearing loss, weakness and along with sensory loss/fear: aggression. To be fair, I too would be aggressive if I was blind, deaf, starving and being eaten alive by my own flesh. Animals usually die due to environmental exposure and starvation. Mange is often seen in fox, coyote, raccoon and is transferable to other mammals (including humans).
In short, this is really unpleasant.
Transmission to humans:
Yes, humans can get rabies and distemper through bites or salivary injection. Rabies manifests as traditional rabies, but distemper seems to replicate but not manifest in people. Basically you have it, but it doesn't show. Mange mite can transfer to humans from animals and animal companions.
Out During Day:
Being outside in the day time is not an indicator of either disease. Just as you will watch an infomercial at 2am, stargaze or use the restroom, healthy nocturnal animals will sometimes come out during the day.
There are many reasons that an animal might be aggressive. Most, unfortunately, are only known to the animal. It could be diseased. It could be acclimated to humans (treasuring an awesome food source/trash heap). It could have felt trapped. It might just be pissy. Nature doesn't read textbooks and while most animals will fit a certain pattern of behavior, they all break it at one place or another.
As for this raccoon, it will be euthanized (which may well be a blessing to the animal) and its brain examined for the rabies virus.
It is possible the raccoon was able to bite and spread rabies.
Still, rabies/ distemper/mange/something else are not that totally uncommon. Other coons, squirrels and wildlife that have always been in the area carry these diseases. Usually they don't interact with humans during their last days, so they avoid being noticed.
In short: take precautions against inviting these guys your house guests (cap chimney/secure trash/don't feed pets outdoors), recognize they share the same environment as people and when in doubt or seeing something odd call animal control. As for running away fast, be careful. In many species of wildlife, running triggers an automatic prey/chase response (hound owners know what I mean). If being attacked, yes, but usually it is best to back away slowly while facing the animal and avoid direct eye contact.
There are undoubtedly things I haven't addressed and exceptions, but if you have questions I would be happy to lend what I know or direct you to people that live and breathe this stuff.
I am happy to answer any questions about rabies please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if I can be of assistance - In short any human exposed to rabies has 10 days to begin post exposure vaccines. Since they caught the offending raccoon the community only needs to wait a few days for the results. The body will be sent to the Massachusetts Sate Lab (in Forest Hills) for testing. If it is negative then any human exposed will only need to watch out for infection of the normal variety. If the results are positive then it is imperative that any person that may have been exposed start post exposure vaccines. Rabies is transmitted through blood and saliva so any bite or scratch from the offending animal should be considered exposure. All animals that may have sustained a bite or scratch should receive a booster vaccine if previously vaccinated. If not previously vaccinated you should consult Animal Control at 617 635 5348. Either vaccinated or not should be under quarantine, for vaccinated/45 days un-vaccinated/6 months. Legally Animal Control should be notified of any possible exposure (some people choose not to report) The good news is if you need post exposure vaccines you are rabies vaccinated for life and will only need one booster shot if bit by a rabid animal. What does this mean? It means you can cuddle wildlife to your hearts desire! JUST KIDDING : )
Pat, did your husband get medical attention for the bites and what was his experience like? I ask because I heard a story on the radio that sometimes hospitals are not clear on the procedures for dealing with a possible-infected human.
Thanks for your question, Josh. My husband did go to the doc and did start the anti-rabies series of shots. They were fine. He got some of the shots yesterday, and will be going back for a week or two for a bunch more. We're in HCHP, so he went there, rather than to a hospital.