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Rabies Risk to Scavenging Skunks

In the Americas, bats are a common reservoir for rabies and occasionally cause spillover infections in other animals, such as striped skunks, raccoons, foxes, and domestic cats. Although the majority of rabies cases are the result of a bite from an infected animal, you may be surprised to know that animals can also contract rabies by feeding on infected carcasses. To better understand the rabies risks associated with animals feeding on dead bats, NWRC, Northern Arizona University, and WS Operations experts placed rabies-free bat carcasses at 104 locations in Flagstaff, Arizona, that had recently experienced rabies outbreaks. The carcasses were monitored using infrared trail cameras. Fifty-two (or 54%) of the carcasses were eaten. Striped skunks were the most frequent visitor to the carcasses and removed or ate the bats 91% of the time. Other species that were attracted to the carcasses included domestic cats, raccoons, gray foxes, coyotes, domestic dogs, American crows, rock squirrels, chipmunks, mice and woodrats. 

Findings suggest that the potential for disease transmission from scavenging is likely to vary depending upon the type and number of scavengers in the area. Given that many bat species roost in and near homes, sick or dying bats falling from roosts are likely to land near buildings or in yards where skunks may encounter them. Reducing skunk access to dens and food sources near homes may decrease the spread of rabies from bats to skunks as a result of scavenging or other interactions. Skunk dens can be sealed after animals are removed using a combination of wire screening, rocks, or concrete. The authors encourage pest control companies to use permanent exclusion techniques instead of trapping and removing skunks, since skunk dens are quickly recolonized. Because skunks, bats, and other rabies reservoir hosts are often found living near people, experts emphasize the need to maintain current rabies vaccinations in pets and proper reporting of potential human or pet exposures.

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