Zoonotic concern: Rabies in Terrestrial Small Mammals

Key Points

  • Rabies is an acute, disseminated encephalomyelitis of mammals caused by a rhabdovirus.
  • Rabies is a rare cause of human morbidity and mortality in the developed world, however in developing nations it is estimated to cause at least 50,000 human deaths annually.
  • Canine rabies is the most common type of rabies in most of the developing world, while raccoon, skunk, fox, and bat rabies virus variants are present in the United States.
  • Rabies is exceedingly rare among small wild mammals and exotic pets. Among rodents in the United States, rabies is most commonly reported in large species like the groundhog and beaver.
  • Exposure to rabies virus generally occurs via a bite from an infected animal, although infective material can also be introduced into a scratch or mucous membrane.
  • When small mammals are housed outdoors, animals should be kept in double-walled enclosures. The use of wire mesh floors increase the risk of exposure to rabid animals.
  • There is no pathognomonic sign for rabies, therefore infection should be included in the differential diagnosis list for any neurologic mammal.
  • Clinical signs commonly reported in rabid ferrets include ascending paralysis, anorexia, cachexia, bladder atony, tremors, and paresis.
  • Data from ferret experiments supports the recommendation of a 10-day quarantine when ferrets bite people or other animals. There are no similar studies in species other than dogs, cats, and ferrets and it is not appropriate to use quarantine to rule-out the risk of rabies transmission to humans or other animals in other small mammals.
  • The gold standard of rabies diagnosis is direct fluorescent antibody testing of brain tissue; no reliable antemortem test exists.

All mammals are considered to be susceptible to rabies although susceptibility appears to vary by species and viral variant. Rabies is exceedingly rare among small wild mammals and exotic pets. Among rodents in the United States, rabies is most commonly reported in . . .


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