Types of Rabid Animals
The four most common terrestrial reservoir species harboring rabies in the U.S. are raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. In addition to these terrestrial, indigenous rabid bats have been found in every state except Hawaii.
Raccoons remain the most frequently reported rabid animal in the United States. The raccoon rabies reservoir extends throughout the southeastern, mid-Atlantic, and northeastern states. No other reservoirs of raccoon rabies have been identified. Rabid raccoons occasionally detected outside of the reservoir area have been found to have non-raccoon variants of the rabies virus, suggesting that they were infected by other species.
Skunks are the second most frequently reported rabid animal in this country. Three virus variants are responsible for rabies in skunks. There are two large geographically distinct reservoirs of skunk rabies due to three different variants of the virus: one in California; the other in the central U.S. from Montana to Texas. Rabid skunks reported in eastern states outside the reservoir areas apparently were infected by raccoons rather than by other skunks.
Two variants of the rabies virus are associated with persistent reservoirs of rabies in foxes. One long-standing reservoir involves arctic and red foxes in Alaska (and Canada) and to a lesser extent, areas of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. A different variant of the virus has been associated with gray foxes, resulting in reservoirs in Texas and Arizona.
A rabies variant found in domestic dogs along the Texas-Mexico border has been seen in coyotes in southern Texas. Northward spread of this reservoir has been limited by an aggressive (and expensive) airdrop vaccination program.
Rabid bats of many different species have been found in all of the 48 contiguous states. To date, only one rabid bat has ever been identified in Alaska - in the southeastern part of the state. Also, one rabid bat was found in a shipping container in Hawaii. Rabid bats are found yearly in New Jersey, with 78 testing positive for rabies in 2014. 10 tested positive in Mercer County.
Rodents / Small Mammals
Providers are often asked about the risks associated with small wild mammals - such as:
- Rabbits and hares
Rodent bites are common, so rodents are often tested for rabies in the U.S. Despite a large number of rodents examined, it is exceedingly uncommon for one to be infected with rabies virus. It has been postulated that these animals are so small that they are unlikely to survive an attack of a larger rabid animal (such as a raccoon, skunk, or fox). Furthermore, although there have been several case reports of humans infected by rabid rodents in other countries, no transmission of rabies from a rodent to a human (or any other mammal) has ever been documented in the United States.
Other Wild Animals
Other wild animals in the U.S. are occasionally found to be rabid. Most are infected with virus strains associated with terrestrial animal species, rather than bats. In 2001, 116 rabid non-reservoir wild animals were reported from the 50 states, including 49 groundhogs and 28 bobcats.