NATURAL RISKS TO MAMMALS
Most wildlife in North Louisiana are not going to have disease, but if you’re going to be outdoors, you should be aware of possibilities. Aside from parasites, mammals in North Louisiana carry three major diseases: Hanson’s disease, or leprosy, plague, and rabies. Of the three, you’re far more likely to come across an animal with rabies.
Armadillos are the only mammal that can transmit leprosy other than people. Nine-banded armadillos, named for the number of ridges on their shells, rarely transmit Hanson’s disease, or leprosy to humans. Although armadillos rarely bite, they have the dishonor of carrying Hansen's disease.
However, researchers are still uncertain how or even if Hansen's travels from armadillos to humans. It has been posited that since there was no leprosy in the New World prior to colonization, New World armadillos may have caught the disease from humans and became carriers for the disease. It is not necessary to fear or kill armadillos to avoid leprosy. Just don't handle them…and, especially, don't eat them unless you want to risk a bad case of food poisoning. For more on leprosy, visit the National Hansen's Disease Program website.
Mammals also carry mange, a skin disease caused by a microscopic mite that lives on the dander. Sarcoptic mange is deadly to some mammals, including foxes and coyotes. Animals with mange lose hair and weight; their skin becomes cracked and encrusted with heavy scabs. Smaller mammals infected with the disease usually die within 2 to 4 months. Humans can contract the mite from infested coyotes, foxes, and dogs, but the disease is less intense, consisting of a mild form of dermatitis.
Fleas, ticks, and lice that travel from mammal to mammal are carriers of that ancient evil, the bubonic plague. Mice and rats are the most likely culprits, although it can be transmitted from any mammal with the disease to any other mammal. In 2013, the U.S. Forest Service shut down three campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest after scientists discovered plague carrying squirrels.
As of 2014, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reported no cases of the plague in Louisiana for the past hundred years. In fact, the DHH reports that the only recorded instances of plague in Louisiana occurred between 1900 and 1925. Most U.S. cases of the plague have occurred in the New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado area and in California, Nevada, and Oregon area. Odds are, even if you’ve been around lots of rodents and been bitten by lots of forest ticks and fleas, you don’t have the plague… unless you’ve taken a trip out west, to medieval Europe, or ancient Greece. Still, if you start growing large black lumps on your neck or under your arms, you might want to get checked out.
Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted from mammal to mammal through bite. According to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, the rabies variant found in raccoons has not been discovered in the state. The raccoon’s bad rep (they account for 60% of rabies in the U.S.) comes predominantly from the Atlantic seaboard. Bats are the number one carrier of rabies in North Louisiana, followed by skunks and foxes.
The following symptoms may indicate the presence of rabies or other neurological diseases in mammals: unprovoked aggression, impaired movement, paralysis or lack of coordination, unusually bold behavior, and disorientation. Contact your local animal control officer or police if you need assistance with a potentially rabid animal. Health care professionals suggest that you get any animal bite checked out. Look for signs of infection…remember wild animals don’t brush their teeth…so there’s a lot of bacteria to transfer from their mouths to your hand, arm, or other appendage. If you are worried that you might have been bitten by a rabid animal, you can find sign and symptoms at the CDC website.