Any warm-blooded mammal can carry or contract rabies, but the primary carriers in North America are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes. Thanks to an increase in pet vaccinations, wildlife now account for more than 90 percent of all reported rabies cases.
Rabies tends to be more common in different species in different places, but is certainly not limited to these trends:
- Raccoons suffer the most from this disease in the eastern U.S.
- Skunks are the dominant rabies victims in the north- and south-central states, although skunk rabies also occurs in the East.
- Bats suffering from rabies are not limited to any particular area but scattered widely.
- Foxes in western Alaska, parts of Arizona and Texas, and the eastern United States are victims more frequently than foxes in other areas.
- Coyotes with rabies have been found in southern Texas in the past but rarely in recent years.
- Rodents (squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs), rabbits and hares rarely get rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States. Squirrels may suffer from the fatal roundworm brain parasite, which causes signs that look exactly like rabies.
- Opossums are amazingly resistant to rabies. Hissing, drooling and swaying are part of the opossum's bluff routine. It is intended to scare away potential predators, yet it looks just like rabies and is the reason people can be convinced they're seeing rabid opossums when they're not.
Federal and state wildlife officials have been vaccinating wildlife in many regions over the past two decades. They distribute vaccine-laden baits that the target animals eat and thereby vaccinate themselves. Right now, oral rabies vaccination of wildlife focuses on halting the spread of specific types of rabies in targeted carrier species. It's hoped that this tool can also shrink the disease's range.
Please see the Transporting Wildlife link below for education on what wildlife can and cannot be transported by citizens.