Health Department warns against human contact with wild animals

ST. GEORGE — Residents are being urged to use caution around wild or stray animals; especially if they appear sick, aggressive, or are easily approached.

If a wild animal is passive enough to let you get close, it’s probably a good idea to back off and keep your distance,” said Health Officer Dr. David Blodgett with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department Health. “Some animal species in our area can carry diseases such as rabies, tularemia, or plague. Human cases are rare, but the risk increases with close contact.”

Diseases found in local wild animal populations include the following:

  • Rabies | a virus most often transmitted through the bite of an infected wild animal; including bats, raccoons, fox, and skunks. Medical care should not be delayed if there are any wounds resulting from an animal attack.
  • Plague | a bacterial disease infamous for killing millions during the Middle Ages, potentially spread to humans from infected rodents (such as prairie dogs and squirrels) through fleas or by handling an infected animal. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is effective.
  • Tularemia | a potentially serious illness from a bacteria found in rodents and rabbits; spread by handling infected carcasses, ingesting contaminated food or water, or bites from infected deer flies and other insects. Treated with antibiotics.
  • Hantavirus | spread through contact with infected rodents (especially the deer mouse in southern Utah) or their urine and droppings. Prevented by rodent control and safe clean-up practices.
  • West Nile virus | has also been detected in area mosquito populations. While most humans who are infected experience no symptoms, serious illness can result in some cases. Prevent mosquito bites by wearing repellent and long-sleeved clothing, avoiding being outdoors during dusk and dawn hours, and emptying standing water on your property.

For more information, visit the Southwest Utah Public Health Department website.

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