It is true that if you have possums in your environment, they can serve as natural pest control. Possums are omnivores, and for the animal matter part of their diet, they typically feed on insects, rodents, snakes, and other pests.
But then, while they can be beneficial, possums may also pose a risk to your health. So, in the end, removing them from your compound might be the better thing to do.
Do possums carry diseases?
Possums carry various pathogens and germs that can cause diseases in humans and pets. Humans get these diseases when they touch urine or body fluid from an infected possum. Possums may also carry parasites like ticks and fleas, leaving your pets at risk of infestation.
It is not uncommon for animals like possums to carry rabies. But interestingly, possums rarely host the rabies virus. This is all thanks to their relatively low body temperature and high immunity. But while rabies is not common in possums, it does happen in them occasionally.
Apart from rabies, these marsupials possess many other diseases. If you check out the rest of this article, you will learn about various diseases possums carry.
Table of Contents
Do Possums Carry Disease?
Possums carry various diseases that can affect humans and pets. This, perhaps, is the most dangerous thing about them.
For more clarity, possums do not carry “diseases” per se. However, they are hosts to various germs and pathogens, which cause diseases.
The transmission of these pathogens and germs to humans happens when humans touch infected urine or body fluid. This is why you should steer clear of places contaminated with possum urine. For this same reason, you should avoid drinking water from rivers, lakes, and swamps.
One thing to note is that possums carry some of these pathogens and germs without showing signs of the disease. So, you may never know which possums to avoid.
Diseases Possums Carry
Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease – in other words, it is a disease that can affect both animals and humans. Exposure to the bacterial pathogen, Leptospira spp., causes this disease.
Leptospirosis may be symptomatic or asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) in humans. The symptoms are sometimes non-specific as they resemble the symptoms of other diseases.
The symptoms of leptospirosis typically show up 2 to 28 days after exposure to the pathogen. The illness is usually sudden, and it happens in 2 phases.
The first phase starts with fever, muscle aches, chills, and headache. There may also be vomiting and diarrhea in this phase. But after a while, the infected person may recover, then fall sick again.
Leptospirosis in humans is pretty severe when it progresses to the second phase. The infected person may suffer kidney damage, liver failure, or respiratory distress in this phase. Then there is also the possibility of meningitis and death. So, you must get to a hospital if you suspect that you have leptospirosis.
Early treatment reduces the chances of progression to the second phase and shortens recovery time. Besides the ones mentioned above, some other symptoms of leptospirosis in humans include:
- Stomach pain
- Red eyes
Note that you are not the only one that can get leptospirosis. Your pets, like cats and dogs, can also get leptospirosis. Sadly, it can be life-threatening for them too. Like humans, animals sometimes show no symptoms of leptospirosis.
Tularemia is a disease, which is also caused by a bacterial pathogen. It affects both humans and animals. Bunnies, hares, and rodents are particularly susceptible to it.
Tularemia is highly transmissible. You can get it just by handling an infected possum. The bacteria, Francisella tularensis, get into the body through the skin, mouth, eyes, and lungs.
Transmission through the lungs may occur when you run over an infected possum or possum carcass with a farming or landscaping machine. The aerosol or dust raised in such a situation may contain the bacteria. So, if you inhale the dust, you can get pneumonic tularemia – although this is pretty rare.
The specific symptoms of tularemia vary, depending on the mode of entry of the bacteria into the body. However, someone infected with tularemia will have elevated fever (as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Besides fever, other general symptoms of tularemia include muscle aches, headache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and general tiredness.
Tularemia can be mild or life-threatening. But thankfully, there are effective treatments.
We mentioned earlier that tularemia can affect rabbits. Besides rabbits, cats and dogs can also get it. But the infection is pretty rare in dogs. In fact, most times, tularemia is self-limiting in dogs.
Chagas Disease also goes by American Trypanosomiasis. It is a parasitic infection transmitted by a bug (Triatomine Bug) you may find on possums. Triatomine bug carries Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite which causes Chagas Disease.
You may get Chagas disease if you touch the urine or feces of infected possums. Symptoms of the infection include fever, headache, paleness, muscle aches, stomach ache, chest pain, and breathing difficulties.
In the chronic phase, infected persons may suffer heart, neurological, or digestive issues. They may also have a mixture of those issues.
In some people, Chagas disease shows no symptoms. But they require treatment to keep the disease from spreading.
If you suspect that you may have Chagas disease, go to a hospital immediately. The earlier you get treatment, the better.
Pets like cats and dogs can get Chagas disease. But cats are highly likely to be asymptomatic.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease that primarily affects the lungs. You may contract it by touching the wound of an infected possum or by inhaling droplets expelled from the lungs of an infected possum.
Tuberculosis is a severe infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Its symptoms include protracted coughing, coughing up blood, weight loss, breathing difficulties, and chest pain. Tuberculosis may also cause fever, night sweats, loss of appetite, and chills.
The state of your immune system is pretty vital to your chances of getting infected or getting sick with tuberculosis. This is why people living with HIV have a higher susceptibility to tuberculosis.
In some people, tuberculosis infection is latent. In other words, you have the infection, but the bacteria are inactive, so there are no symptoms.
If you have gotten the vaccine against tuberculosis, you are unlikely to get sick from tuberculosis.
There are many resistant strains of tuberculosis. So, sometimes the treatment is comprehensive. While a person with latent tuberculosis may only take 1-2 drugs, someone with active tuberculosis may need up to 4 drugs for a couple of months.
The point here is, try not to get infected with tuberculosis. Besides the discomfort and possibility of death, the treatment can be unpleasant.
Cats, dogs, and many other pets may also get tuberculosis. So, while you take precautions for yourself, ensure you protect your pets too.
Spotted fevers are a group of bacterial diseases. The causative organisms belong to the Rickettsia genus, and ticks transmit them.
If a tick bites a possum infected with any spotted-fever-causing Rickettsia bacteria, it will pick up the bacteria. Then when it bites you, it will transmit the bacteria to you, and you will come down with the disease.
Spotted fevers can be mild or life-threatening. The Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is particularly life-threatening without early treatment. Sometimes, this disease may even cause permanent damages like deafness, amputation, mental instability, and paralysis.
Rashes are quite common amongst people infected with spotted fevers, especially those who have Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Besides rashes, this disease may also cause fever, muscle ache, headache, stomach pain, and lack of appetite.
Pets like cats and dogs can get spotted fever. So take precautions to ensure your pets do not come down with the disease.
Relapsing fever is a bacterial disease, and like spotted fevers, the bite of an infected tick transmits it to humans.
Infection with Borrelia spp., the bacteria that cause relapsing fever, may cause tick-borne relapsing fever and two other types of relapsing fever.
Of the three types of relapsing fever, tick-borne relapsing fever is the only one common in the United States. Even at that, the infection is pretty rare. Thankfully, there are treatments for the disease.
Symptoms of this disease include fever, headache, joint aches, and muscle aches. As the name says, relapsing fever follows a relapsing pattern.
If infected, you may experience 3 days of fever and 7 days without fever. And you will keep relapsing following the same intervals until you get treatment.
Tick-borne relapsing fever can affect cats and dogs. It is also potentially fatal when it affects them. So, ensure you keep your pets away from possums.
Toxoplasmosis is one of the primary causes of death from foodborne illness in the United States. It is a disease that comes from infection with Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite.
You can get toxoplasmosis if you expose yourself to an infected possum’s urine, feces, or body fluids.
In healthy people, toxoplasmosis may show no symptoms, or the symptoms may be mild. In other words, if your immunity is high and you get toxoplasmosis, you may only see symptoms like fever, muscle ache, and tender lymph nodes.
The symptoms will stay around for some weeks or months, then disappear. However, the parasites will remain in your body. So, if you become immunosuppressed in the future, you might have a relapse.
When you suffer a relapse due to low immunity, you may experience symptoms like seizures, fever, confusion, headache, poor coordination, and nausea.
If you are pregnant, you should do all you can to avoid getting toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy might lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, or congenital diseases. Interestingly, having toxoplasmosis before pregnancy protects unborn children because mothers have developed immunity against the disease.
Toxoplasmosis generally affects warm-blooded animals. So, your pets can also get the infection, and it can cause death in severe cases.
As previously stated, rabies is uncommon in possums, thanks to their low body temperature. But then, it is possible for a possum to have rabies.
Rabies spreads through the saliva of an infected animal. So, if you somehow get bitten by a rabid possum, you may get rabies.
Rabies is a deadly viral disease that affects the nerves. It is so terrible that once an infected person or animal starts showing signs of the disease, there is almost no chance of survival. But then, if you have gotten the rabies vaccine in the past, you are safe.
The early signs of rabies infection are flu-like: fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and the like. But then, as the disease progresses, it starts affecting the nervous system.
At this point, symptoms like confusion, partial paralysis, and excess salivation may appear. There may also be hyperactivity and hallucinations.
All mammals can get rabies, so your pets are not safe from infection, except they get the rabies vaccine. If your mammalian pets like cats and dogs get rabies, they can infect you with a bite or a scratch. So, it is better if you and your pet get the rabies vaccine as a precaution.
If a rabid possum (or animal) bites you, or if a suspected rabid animal bites you, get to a hospital immediately. Even if you are unsure whether the bite actually happened, go to a hospital at once. This piece of advice is particularly vital to people who have not had the rabies vaccine.
Possums carry various disease-causing agents (pathogens) from bacteria to viruses, protozoan parasites, and ectoparasites.
These pathogens cause various diseases when transmitted to humans, and some of them affect pets too. Many of these diseases are treatable, but you should avoid getting them in the first place.