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Contact information
For information on wildlife health, contact:
Nancy Businga
Wildlife disease specialist/health lab manager
Bureau of Wildlife Management
608-221-5375

Mammal diseases

The following are short summaries of some of the mammal diseases found in Wisconsin.

Zoonotic diseases: diseases that can be passed between animals and humans

Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease of the central nervous system. It is transmitted by scratches, bites or having an open wound or mucous membrane contact an infected animal's saliva. Skunks and bats are the main rabies carriers in Wisconsin wildlife, but all warm-blooded animals, including humans, are susceptible to rabies. Infected animals can show abnormal activity, can be aggressive, show no fear of humans and may salivate excessively ("foaming at the mouth"). They may be lethargic or wander aimlessly. Sporadic convulsions, tremors and chewing fits can also be signs of rabies.

Anyone who has been bitten, scratched or has an open wound or mucous membrane or has come into contact with fresh saliva of a wild animal is considered at risk for rabies. You should IMMEDIATELY clean the bite, wound or scratch with soap and water.

Little brown bat
Bats rarely carry rabies but bats should be tested if a person or pet is exposed. © Melissa Clark

Contact your local health department [exit DNR] as soon as possible to report the incident and for further guidance. Health officials will evaluate the risk, based on the wild animal species involved and other factors, and decide if there is a need to capture and euthanize the wild animal for laboratory testing. The person who is bitten should seek immediate medical attention. For additional information on rabies in Wisconsin please see the Wisconsin Department of Health Services rabies information [exit DNR].

The WI Departent of Health advises that "Because bites and scratches from bats may go unnoticed if a person is sleeping, is very young, or is mentally incapacitated, a physician should be contacted if a bat is found in the same room with a young child, or with a sleeping or mentally incapacitated adult. Persons who have been in close physical proximity to bats and who cannot rule out the possibility of physical contact should likewise contact their physician."

If a pet or domestic livestock has had a possible interaction with wildlife contact your veterinarian. Dead wildlife carcasses may still harbor live rabies virus and could potentially infect pets that come into contact with them.

Tularemia (Francisella tularensis)

muskrat

Tularemia is also known as "beaver fever" or "rabbit fever". This bacterial disease is most frequently found in Wisconsin muskrat, beaver or rabbits. An infected animal will generally be in good physical condition, but have an enlarged spleen or liver covered with small white spots.

This disease can be transmitted to humans by biting insects, such as flies and ticks, direct contact and by ingestion of poorly cooked meat. The most common symptoms for humans are a slow-healing skin sore or ulcer, swollen lymph nodes and fever. Ingestion can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Tularemia can only be diagnosed with laboratory testing and treatment usually results in full recovery.

Raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis)

The raccoon round worm generally does not harm the raccoon, but simply lives in the intestinal tract. Raccoons that have adult worms release parasitic eggs in their feces. People and animals other than raccoons can accidentally ingest these eggs, which may be on the ground, on surrounding vegetation or in cages or enclosures. Once the eggs are ingested, they can hatch into larvae. The larvae can move through the body, causing harm to the nervous system or eyes and can even result in death. There is no reliably successful treatment to rid the roundworms in people.

Raccoon roundworms are very hardy and can only be killed by intense heat or boiling lye. Gloves and a mask should be worn when handling raccoon fecal material or anything that may have been contaminated with raccoon feces.

Sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabiei)

coyote with mange

Mange is caused by a microscopic mite, and in Wisconsin most commonly occurs in coyote, red fox and wolf. This type of mange may also be transmitted to domestic dogs. Mange-affected animals lose hair and develop thick, scaley skin. They can die of starvation, dehydration or hypothermia during the winter. Sarcoptic mange mites can occasionally infect people. Clinical signs of mange in people include a localized, itchy red rash.

Non-zoonotic diseases

Canine distemper Virus (CDV)

Canine distemper virus affects mainly raccoon and gray fox populations, but can also infect other carnivores. This disease can be transmitted to domestic dogs, but is not a risk to people. Infected animals appear lethargic and may show no fear of humans, wander aimlessly, have respiratory signs, discharge from the eyes or nervous system signs such as convulsions and chewing fits. Signs of CDV mimic those of rabies, making it difficult to tell what disease it is without testing. The virus does not live long outside the diseased animal, and is destroyed by most soaps and disinfectants, including bleach.

Canine parvovirus (CPV)

coyote

This highly contagious viral disease affects fox, wolf, coyote and raccoons, and is most severe in young animals. Canine parvovirus can be transmitted to domestic dogs, but is not a risk to people. This disease causes intestinal bleeding, severe diarrhea, and dehydration which may result in death. The virus is shed through the feces, and persists in the environment. A 10% bleach solution inactivates the virus.

Tyzzer's disease (Clostridium piliforme)

Tyzzer's disease is a bacterial infection that is seen in muskrats and cottontail rabbits. It is not a disease risk for people. Animals are usually found dead in good physical condition, as animals can get sick and die within a few hours after infection. Overpopulation, limited food resources and other stress factors may contribute to outbreaks of this disease. Animals with Tyzzer's disease have blood engorged organs, but only laboratory testing can confirm this infection. Signs of Tyzzer's disease mimic those of tularemia.

Last revised: Tuesday September 06 2016