MARQUETTE, MI — Pet skunks dying of rabies have exposed Upper Peninsula residents to the deadly disease.
Marquette veterinarian Tim Hunt says the animal, named Dixie, was purchased from a licensed breeder in Lapeer County. An Escanaba couple bought a skunk and had it spayed at Hunt’s clinic. It later fell ill and died. A post-mortem test came back positive for rabies.
Hunt says skunks are unusual pets, so the couple took him out in public and let people take pictures with him.
“The belief is that the skunk came in with rabies and was asymptomatic. The question is whether it’s transmissible at that point. Once it becomes symptomatic, it’s absolutely transmissible.”
Rabies can be transmitted from animals to humans through saliva bites or skin scratches. If the animal is drooling, it can also spread through a wound or cut through its saliva.
Hunt says the breeder apparently repopulated wild skunks with pets, which is illegal. Then those skunks were sold across the state.
“So potentially, you know, there are skunks in places that people have bought that could have the same problem that we saw with the skunk in Escanaba.”
Rabies is deadly, so it is important to identify when a person has been exposed to the disease. If you think you may have been exposed during the month of November, contact your physician or local health department, Hunt says.
People who are concerned about their pets should contact their vet.
Outbreaks of rabies in pet fur have also been reported in the metro Detroit area.