Could I have acquired rabies from this squirrel?
October 23, 2011 6:05 PM Subscribe
Is it possible that I could become the first ever documented case of squirrel-to-human rabies transmission? Yesterday at about 11AM Eastern time I was bitten in both thumbs by a half-paralyzed squirrel.
posted by r0w to health & fitness (36 answers total)
Circumstantial evidence (the squirrel was on a median strip) led me to believe that it had been struck by a car and lost the use of its back legs, either due to spinal cord injury or massive trauma to the legs. There was no visible blood, nor was the squirrel foaming at the mouth. As I approached it it lay completely still until I actually picked it up, at which point it vigorously defended itself with the upper half of its body. Later on animal control was alerted, but failed to find the squirrel where I had left it on the grass between the road and sidewalk, and when I drove back along the same route late in the afternoon I did not see it either.
The ER doctor informed me that squirrels "do not" transmit rabies to humans, and sent me home with an antibiotics prescription. I have since been enlightened that paralysis of the rear legs is a symptom of rabies in various animals. I am aware that doctors often fail to distinguish the unproven from the disproven, and it seems that squirrel-human rabies transmission is solidly in the former category.
My reasoning is that if everyone bitten by a squirrel were to receive the rabies vaccine, then squirrel-human rabies transmission would never be proven. If rabid squirrels are rare, then less thorough use of the vaccine could still obscure cases of squirrel-human rabies transmission. And I found a journal online documenting that at least some people have received the vaccine for squirrel bites.
I would prefer not to achieve fame as the first ever documented case of squirrel-to-human rabies transmission. According to Wikipedia/Sherris Medical Microbiology, "treatment after exposure, known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), is highly successful in preventing the disease if administered promptly, in general within ten days of infection." So I have 9 days to make a case to myself and the medical profession that I should receive a rabies vaccination. Or maybe 2 years!--"The period between infection and the first flu-like symptoms is normally two to twelve weeks, but can be as long as two years. " (Wikipedia/Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease)
The CDC says "Small rodents (such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and chipmunks, ) and lagomorphs (such as rabbits and hares) are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States. Bites by these animals are usually not considered a risk of rabies unless the animal was sick or behaving in any unusual manner and rabies is widespread in your area."
Somebody on this thread http://www.thesquirrelboard.com/forums/showthread.php?t=11220 was told "I should watch for flu symptoms over the next month to indicate I got rabies but otherwise don't worry", which sounds like useless advice since PEP is apparently not effective after symptoms emerge.
I am unable to find a description of signs and symptoms of rabies in a squirrel, presumably because of the rarity of identifying a squirrel as rabid: "only 4 rabid squirrels have been reported since 2000, despite a mean of 1,232 squirrels tested each year." (Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2009, Jesse D. Blanton, MPH; Dustyn Palmer, BA; Charles E. Rupprecht, VMD, PhD, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association September 15, 2010, Vol. 237, No. 6, Pages 646-657)
Based on descriptions of other animals' behavior when rabid, and/or your knowledge of neurology, could this squirrel have been rabid? I am prone to anxiety, and I would rather not spend the next 2 years worrying that every fever is prodromal rabies.