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Posted on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 11:18 a.m.

Tests confirm rabies in skunk found near Miller Road in Ann Arbor

By Paula Gardner

An Ann Arbor veterinarian who's tested hundreds of animals for rabies with zero positive results over the years got the opposite news on Tuesday after her own dog tangled with a skunk acting strangely.

That skunk, county health officials confirmed, was infected with rabies. It's the first skunk in Washtenaw County to be found with the fatal virus since 2005 and the 4th animal this year.


From the Grand Rapids Press

In the most recent case, "there wasn't human exposure," said Susan Ringler-Cerniglia of the county's public health department.

The skunk was taken for rabies testing by Dr. Cathy Theisen after her dog, Sage, came upon it in their yard, located on Arborview near Miller Nature Area, west of downtown.

The skunk was acting strangely, Theisen said.

"It kept charging the dog," she said, and the timing was odd for a nocturnal animal.

Several skunks with distemper have been reported in nearby neighborhoods in recent months, and Theisen said she expected that to be the case with this animal, too.

But Tuesday, she got the call from the virologist that the skunk had the disease.

She's not concerned about her dog, which was up-to-date on shots and received another vaccine for safety's sake.

Theisen said she, too, has received vaccinations because of her proximity to animals.

Still, she said, the incident should remind pet owners to get their pets vaccinated, since the disease is always fatal.

"There's no known treatment," she said.

Still, Cerniglia said, the incident doesn't seem to carry much risk for humans due to the limited exposure. Instead, she worries about pets that aren't vaccinated and the feral cats who live near Miller Nature Area. Those cats are at risk, and the people who feed them also could face exposure if the disease is found among the cats.

Even if there are more incidents among wild animals, Theisen said, people in the area don't need to fear a large outbreak.

"Rabies has been among us forever," she said. "It's always an isolated thing."

County health officials said they don't see this year's number of rabies cases as unusual.

In August, 92 people contacted the health department after encounters with potentially rabid animals, she said. Of them, 20 were recommended to go through rabies treatment.

"In the last couple of weeks, the volume has fallen off significantly," Cerniglia said. "That's normal for this time of year."

Read more about the signs and symptoms of rabies.



Fri, Sep 23, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

Thanks Cathy that's really good information and we should pass it on to our kids too. I wonder about some of the people I know who like to hand feed the squirrels in their backyards. Is there any problems with that for possible infectious diseases?

Cathy Theisen DVM

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

Just to clarify, this skunk was charging face first at the dog, not turning around to spray. It was as if it had "forgotten" about it's primary defense. As a result, the skunk never sprayed at all, it was so busy fending off the dog head on. It also stumbled when moving, and just struck me as very unusual behaviour for a skunk. When the dog grabbed it and shook it, the skunk didn't even get a bite in. It was then that I decided I'd better submit the head for testing. Never attempt to capture a sick animal on your Animal Control for assistance. Rabies is fatal and untreatable.


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 1:38 a.m.

It's not at all impossible to catch a skunk and not be sprayed. Animal Control people live trap them often. You just can't freak the critter out or make it feel threatened.

Jeff Renner

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 12:02 p.m.

Live trap, yes, although as you suggest, you have to be very, very careful when you move the trap and remove the skunk! But I don't think you could have set up a live trap and be sure you would capture the particular skunk you were after in a case like this.

Jeff Renner

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 7:13 p.m.

How was the skunk collected? I imagine it must have been shot, since netting it would almost surely have resulted in it spraying. There is more of this story to be reported.

Jeff Renner

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 1:33 a.m.

Thanks, Paula. I suspect the dog got sprayed, then. Break out the tomato juice!


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 10:28 p.m.

wow, I need to borrow her dog for a few nights.

Paula Gardner

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 7:22 p.m.

The dog killed it. Dr. Theisen submitted it for testing.

dading dont delete me bro

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 3:35 p.m.

who brought that specimen in?