Rochester Hills skunk tests positive for rabies

Health officials urge residents, pets to avoid wild animals

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published March 27, 2019


ROCHESTER HILLS — Local health officials are advising people to keep themselves and their pets away from wild animals after a skunk infected with rabies was found in Rochester Hills.

“Rabies is present in our communities,” Oakland County Health Officer Leigh-Anne Stafford said in a statement. “People and their pets need to be careful and avoid encounters with unfamiliar animals.”

In Michigan, skunks and bats are the most common carriers of rabies, which is a viral disease of mammals that’s transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. Rabies can also be found in foxes, raccoons and other wild mammals.

“Rabies occurs in less than 1 percent of the wild animal population at any given time, so the likelihood of a case is very low. I think this is the second reported case in two or three years, so it’s not super common,” said Lauren Oxlade, an outdoor interpreter for the city of Rochester Hills.

Although the infected skunk — which was reported to the Oakland County Health Department via the Michigan Humane Society — was removed from Rochester Hills, officials said residents should remain cautious outdoors to prevent exposure.

“If left untreated, rabies is a serious disease that is nearly always fatal,” Stafford said in an email. “Once signs of rabies appear, treatment is rarely effective.”

The early symptoms of rabies in people, according to health officials, include fever, headache, general weakness and discomfort that may last for days.

“The first symptoms in humans may be very similar to the flu, including general weakness or discomfort, fever or headache. These symptoms may last for days,” Stafford said in the email.

As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe and include difficulty sleeping, anxiety, confusion, partial paralysis, difficulty swallowing, hallucinations, agitation, an increase in saliva and a fear of water.

“Death usually occurs within days of when these neurological symptoms begin,” Stafford said in the email.

The best way to protect yourself from rabies is to avoid contact with wild animals, which officials said can carry rabies without looking sick.

If you see wild animals out during the day that are normally out at night, it’s not normally a cause for concern, according to Oxlade, because a lot of them are having babies.

“They are more active because they are looking for more food and places to have their babies,” she said.  

Still, if you come across a wild animal that appears sick, you should report it to the Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center at (248) 391-4102.

If you are bitten or scratched by an unknown or wild animal, health officials said the best thing to do is to wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and seek immediate medical attention. Your local health department should also be alerted, which can be found at

Health officials said the rabies disease can be prevented with a prompt treatment of injections following possible exposure to the virus. Animal bites can be reported to the Oakland County Health Division at (248) 858-1286.

People also need to protect their pets from rabies. The best way to safeguard your pets is to have them vaccinated against rabies. If your animal is bitten or scratched by a wild animal, or if you believe they have had unsupervised contact with wildlife, health officials recommend contacting your veterinarian as soon as possible. Even if your pet is currently vaccinated against rabies, additional actions may need to be taken to prevent them from becoming infected.

If possible, health officials urge people to safely confine or capture the wild animal without touching it, and to contact their local animal control officer or veterinarian, as the animal may need to be tested for rabies.

For more information about rabies and for a map of rabies positive animals in Michigan, visit

If a wild animal is found in or near your home exhibiting unusual behavior, call Oakland County Animal Control at (248) 858-1070.