Many people find squirrels charming and endearing, especially for rodents, but have you ever wondered what would happen if you touched one? Are you curious to know if squirrels carry disease? Here are the facts.
Squirrels do carry many diseases, including rabies, tularemia, plague, typhus, and ringworm. Most of these are rare but can have severe consequences if untreated. To prevent contracting these diseases, avoid contact with squirrels. If this is unavoidable, wear protective equipment and bug spray.
There are many types of diseases that squirrels may carry, and there is a lot to know about each illness. Keep reading to learn more about the hazardous diseases these rodents may transmit, how you may contract them, and how to avoid them in the first place.
Types of Diseases Squirrels May Carry
As with most wild animals, squirrels can carry a wide variety of diseases. Luckily, they are not all harmful to humans. Here are some potential diseases to watch out for.
Be careful if you come into contact with a southern flying squirrel. These critters are known to carry the bacteria that lead to typhus fever. You may know typhus for its association with epidemics, but these typically occur in crowded, unsanitary, poverty-stricken areas.
Since typhus presents similarly to many other diseases like malaria or dengue, it can be difficult to diagnose properly. Symptoms of typhus include:
- Dry cough
- Lesions or sores
There are multiple typhus types, so you may not present with all of the symptoms mentioned above. Still, it’s best to be cautious instead of assuming you have not contracted the disease.
If you believe you may have typhus, potential diagnostic tests include:
- Skin biopsy
- Blood tests
- Western blot
If these tests result in a positive typhus diagnosis, antibiotics can be prescribed to you to help fight the infection. Previously healthy adults and children have generally positive outcomes from treatment. No matter how old you are or how many underlying health conditions you have, it’s important to seek treatment immediately for the most effective results.
Before you panic, yes, squirrels may carry bubonic plague-causing bacteria, but no, you don’t need to worry. It is still possible for humans to contract the disease. In fact, there are a handful of diagnosed plague cases around the world annually. However, doctors can treat the infection with antibiotics. The disease is usually curable, especially if patients seek treatment within 24 hours of initial symptoms.
While it’s still possible to contract the plague, the problematic bacteria doesn’t tolerate sunlight well, which is another reason you shouldn’t be too worried about this disease. Still, if you are experiencing symptoms, you must get checked out by a physician. If left untreated, the bubonic plague can lead to sepsis, pneumonia, or even death.
Here are some symptoms to watch out for:
- Open sores
- Organ failure
Person-to-person transmission is highly unlikely, and experts are not at all worried about another plague epidemic. Don’t worry; antibiotics are your friend.
If you have a phobia of worms, take a breath. Unlike parasitic worms, ringworm is just a name. You don’t have “ringworms” living inside of you.
Instead, ringworm is a fungal infection affecting the skin that can infect both animals and humans. Ringworm may appear as patches that are:
- Blistered or pustuled
- Redder around the edges, reminiscent of a ring (hence the name)
- Edged, raised and defined
A health care professional may collect a skin or discharge sample to diagnose ringworm.
Many over-the-counter medications and topical creams are available to treat ringworm. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes like ensuring you dry your skin thoroughly after bathing or getting wet, avoiding tight-fitting clothing, or more frequent bed and clothing washing.
Infected squirrels may also carry tularemia. There are multiple forms of this disease, and its severity is determined by how it enters the body. Contract transmission is the most frequently occurring version of this disease, while inhalation is the most severe.
Some people infected with tularemia may not experience any symptoms, while others may experience any of the following:
- Breathing issues
- Skin or mouth ulcers
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Chest pain
- Eye swelling, pain, discharge, redness, or other irritation
Antibiotics are used to treat tularemia, but you may also require surgery if you have swollen lymph nodes. Plus, doctors may prescribe other medications to fight headaches and fevers.
Rabies may be one of the most commonly feared diseases when it comes to wild animals, but in the case of squirrels, you don’t need to be too concerned about it. It’s actually very rare for squirrels to carry rabies. On the off chance that these rodents do have it, most people know the kind of treatment they should seek if they think they’ve been infected with rabies: a vaccine.
However, this is not to say that rabies isn’t serious — it is. If left untreated, rabies is very likely to result in death. You must contact a health care practitioner immediately if you have been scratched or bitten by a squirrel. Once symptoms develop, the disease will likely lead to death.
How Squirrels Can Transmit Diseases
Just because squirrels may carry infectious diseases doesn’t mean you need to go running every time you see one on the ground. Like many wild animals, they’re probably more scared of you than you are of them. Of course, transmission still is possible. Here are some ways squirrels can pass on diseases.
The most prominent disease transmission mode from squirrels to humans is through contact, including scratches and bites. Squirrel-related diseases that you may contract this way include rabies, bubonic plague, tularemia, and ringworm. It’s especially dangerous to come into contact with dead squirrels or brain tissue, especially if you are not wearing the proper protective equipment.
Inhalation and Eyes
As mentioned, tularemia is transmissible in various ways. While you can contract this disease through contact, it’s also possible to become infected by inhaling the bacteria. Similarly, tularemia can enter the body through eye exposure.
There are some other possible diseases humans and pets may contract from squirrels, but these ones aren’t the squirrels’ fault. Wild squirrels come in contact with plenty of other animals, including insects, so they can easily end up carrying these potentially infectious bugs.
Mites, fleas, and ticks are pesky and even disgusting to some, but they can also be extremely dangerous. These insects can infect both humans and pets with diseases such as encephalitis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. This is why it’s always a good idea to thoroughly examine your pets and yourself for any of these bugs after spending time outdoors.
Precautions To Prevent Diseases From Squirrels
The best way to prevent contracting diseases from squirrels include:
- Avoid contact with squirrels. Close contact is required to contract most squirrel-related illnesses, so the best disease prevention practice is avoiding contact in the first place. Do not handle, feed, or touch wild squirrels, especially dead ones.
- Wear protective equipment. If you must handle a squirrel, make sure you wear protective equipment, including gloves, a face mask, and an eye shield.
- Wear bug spray. Squirrels may carry disease-causing insects like ticks and fleas. If you know you will be in close quarters with squirrels, wear bug spray to prevent potential infection.
Squirrels can carry many harmful diseases, including rabies, typhus, ringworm, tularemia, and the plague. While most of these illnesses are rare and have treatments if caught in time, you should not take them lightly. If left undiagnosed, these infections may result in death. To avoid contracting them, avoid contact with squirrels whenever possible. If contact is necessary, be sure to wear protective equipment and bug spray.
- Orkin: What Diseases Can Squirrels Transmit to Humans?
- HealthLinkBC: Rabies
- Healthline: Typhus
- Critter Control: Do Flying Squirrels Carry Diseases?
- Healthline: Yes the Bubonic Plague Is Still Around, Why You Don’t Need to Worry
- Healthline: Everything You Want to Know About Ringworm
- Healthline: Tularemia