Possums, also known as Didelphis virginiana, carry different diseases that could be transmitted to humans and pets through direct or indirect contact. These include Toxoplasmosis, Murine Typhus, and the rabies virus too. This article discusses the diseases opossums carry and how to know when possums are sick, among other subjects.
The only marsupials in North America, Opossums are docile and nocturnal animals with nice prehensile tails. Science suggests they are essential in the fight against Lyme disease, because they eat hundreds of ticks every day. Because of this and other lovable traits, we’ve made even them our pets at home. But, since everyone is becoming more conscious about their health, people ask, “do possums carry diseases?”
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Do Opossums Carry Diseases?
The North American possum can carry diseases. However, they are not always disease carriers unless some factors are present—especially their body temperature. The average temperature of an opossum’s body is between 93 and 94 degrees Fahrenheit; however, it can occasionally drop to between 89 and 90 degrees or even lower when they feign death.
Most animals can transmit diseases like rabies, panleukopenia, canine distemper, norovirus, and flu to pets and humans. What makes that possible is that these diseases can only thrive in critters with higher body temperatures. They can only replicate in possums if there’s a fever; otherwise, it’s very rare for opossums to carry these diseases.
Still, opossums can carry hazardous germs and bacteria that cause diseases like Leptospirosis, transmitted through infected urine, blood, or infected living or dead animals. They can also transmit rabies. Animals like raccoons, deer, rodents, skunks, and squirrels often catch these diseases yet show no outward symptoms. There’s more about these diseases in the next session.
What Diseases Do Opossums Carry?
We’ve said that possums usually carry some diseases, provided they have a fever, since they can only thrive under such conditions. Some diseases opossums can carry include:
It is a bacterial disease. When left untreated, Leptospirosis can cause complications, including liver failure, kidney damage, respiratory distress, meningitis, or death. Also, humans can contract the disease if they come into contact with the urine, water, food, or soil that the infected animal contaminates.
This is a disease spread by fleas. Humans catch it through any area in the skin that they scratch, the eye, bite site, and the airway. When infected, it is common to experience rashes, headaches, body aches, pains, and chills.
Whenever an opossum looks sick, we often conclude it has rabies. That is a mistake. Any mammal can catch rabies. However, it is very rare for possums to have rabies thanks to their body temperature—which does not favor the rabies virus’ survival.
The zoonotic disease can be transmitted between possums and humans when they bite, scrape, or when there’s an infected tissue. We can be infected indirectly when bit by deer flies or ticks. Also, we could catch tularemia from contaminated water, or when infected soil particles enter your eye, or open wound and after eating infected food.
A disease you could develop when you have a parasite Toxoplasma gondii infection. Both animals and people who’ve been infected have had contact with feces with an infectious agent or if they consume meat that is not properly prepared. Toxoplasmosis is prevalent in cats and possums. It is, however, known to cause serious complications.
The people who easily contract Toxoplasmosis include those with a weak immune system or pregnant women. In case you contract it, you can expect the following symptoms:
- Muscle pain
Toxoplasmosis is a disease that can linger for weeks, during which individuals may have symptoms such as fever, headache, and muscle soreness. Pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems are the most at risk of contracting the disease.
When you come into contact with opossums, you should always take care to lower your risk of infection, regardless of whether the animals are healthy, sick, dead, or troubled. If you are looking for opossum removal services, contact pest control or wildlife control.
Can Opossums Carry Rabies?
All mammals, including marsupials, carry rabies. However, based on their body temperature, possums rarely carry rabies. The often low body temperatures are not favorable for the rabies virus to survive. Statistics show more cases of rabies in raccoons, skunks, and bats than in opossums.
How Do You Know if a Possum Has a Disease?
You can see a healthy possum based on body functionality, vibrant look, teeth, and fur. However, there are indications you ought to take seriously to know when a possum is sick. Even if an opossum looks healthy outwardly, this is not a foolproof method for determining the state of the animal’s overall health.
Usually, specific outward signs indicate the presence of particular diseases. When you notice these signs in an opossum, avoid any physical contact with and contact animal services. Also, you want to watch out for:
The skin. When you notice a change in the opossum’s skin or fur, it could carry infectious diseases. Watch for alterations in their skin color, like patches, lesions, or discoloration.
The presence of sores or growths on the animal’s skin indicates that the opossum is sick. The animal may be balding, or fur could be falling off, and patches may indicate a bacterial or fungal infection.
If you see these signs, take necessary precautions, including:
- Keep your house cat indoors.
- Temporarily close the door to your pet’s entryway until you remove the animal.
- You also want to keep your pet food away from their reach.
You also want to check animal behavior for clues on the possum’s status. Lethargy or fussiness points to illness. The animal is not physically active and does not respond.
Whenever a possum is sick, you want to avoid it because they are a danger to you and the critter inside your home. For instance, opossums can transmit diseases when they bite, scratch, or contact their feces- which could have salmonella.
If you notice a sick possum anywhere near your home, you want to follow up after it with a thorough cleaning, disinfecting the area, including their crawl spaces. You want to avoid any contact, even with their feces.
Even the carrion of an opossum can spread harmful fungus and bacteria. So you want to extract the dead possum in your attics or compound cautiously.
Can Touching a Possum Make You Sick?
Touching a healthy possum will not make you sick. However, you do not want to touch a sick possum. We’ve seen that opossums can transmit diseases via fluid, bites, and droppings. So it would be best if you avoided any physical contact with them. But if you must touch them, use latex gloves for protection.
What to Do if an Opossum Bit You
Possums are extremely cautious animals that will go to great lengths to avoid any encounter with humans. They can feign death as a defense mechanism when you catch them unawares around your trash cans. They won’t attack you unless you give them a reason to.
When a possum feels threatened, it becomes alert and will attack as a last resort, including biting you with its 50 sharp teeth. So you want to go easy on the critter.
If you have been bitten:
- You want to do some breathing exercises to help keep you calm.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
- Usually, these critters have no harmful bacteria in their mouths, considering that they are omnivores—eating only insects and fruits.
- Immediately seek medical attention just in case it has a rabies virus.
- Keep a close eye on the wound.
- If you notice the infection is spreading further, it is in your best interest to see a medical professional for proper treatment.
Do Possums Carry Diseases: Summary
Yes, they do. Among the diseases include rabies, tularemia, and Leptospirosis, among others. However, bacteria and viruses do not thrive based on their body temperature unless they have a fever.
Possums can infect you and your pets through biting, scratching, droppings, and fluids. So, avoid contact whenever you notice signs of illness. In case a possum bites you, use warm water and soap. Afterward, contact your doctor for professional advice.