A Woman Walks into a Bar in North Dakota, Holding a Raccoon

Recently, in Maddock, North Dakota, a woman walks into a bar with a raccoon in her hand. It sounds like the start of a joke, but it really did happen, causing authorities to raise a statewide rabies alert. It seems a bit made up, but according to a press release from the AP, I guess it’s the real thing.

Here’s what we know so far. Last week, a woman walked into a bar in Maddock, North Dakota. Bartender Cindy Smith said she served drinks for happy hour during the event. There were about 10 people at the bar. Maddock is a pretty small town. It has about 400 residents and is located about 40 miles southwest of Devils Lake in North Dakota.

Smith said he asked the woman to leave immediately, but the woman went to show her pet raccoon to another customer. After about 5 minutes, the woman left. According to the bartender, the animal never left his arm and certainly didn’t bite.

Despite this, the news broke and a warning was issued by the North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday. They ask if anyone who may have been bitten or come into contact with raccoon saliva seeks medical attention.

“As rabies is a very serious disease with an almost 100% mortality rate, we are making this information public as a precaution,” epidemiologist Amanda Bakken said in the AP article.

Raccoons are one of two animals that are illegal to have as pets in North Dakota (the other skunk). You can read all about it here. However, they are legal as pets in South Dakota, my lakeside cottage, and our neighbors have raised a pair of young raccoons who have lost their mother. I spent some time with them this summer and I have to admit I fell in love with them. Very cute.

So if rabies has an almost 100% mortality rate, how common is it for animals to contract rabies? According to Zoetis, some common animals that are carriers of rabies include bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes. Pets get rabies by biting or coming into contact with the saliva of an infected animal.

But a common misconception is that ALL raccoons have rabies. How common is it? It’s hard to know for sure since the only real test comes from brain tissue, so you need a dead animal. According to Critter Detective, transmission of rabies from raccoons to individuals is extremely rare. How rare, try only ONE well-known case in United States HISTORY. You are much more likely to get rabies from a dog or cat than from a raccoon.

I decided to dig a little more, and it looks like 3 people have died of rabies from a raccoon bite in the United States since 2009, according to the CDC. Yet extremely rare.

The whole state’s rabies warning seems a bit exaggerated to me.

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