"Foxes spread rabies!"
The fox is often directly associated with the issue of rabies. But is the fear of contracting rabies from the fox justified?
Globally, rabies is still a serious disease that kills about 55,000 people a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). However, 95% of these cases are in Africa and Asia! Rabies viruses are also still widespread in Central South America, the Balkans and Turkey.
Germany is considered rabies-free since 2008!
In Germany, however, 2007 was the last time a rabies infection was detected in a human. However, this person had not been infected in Germany, but during a vacation in Morocco by a dog bite. The last known case of rabies in a fox was registered in Germany in 2006.
Thanks to large-scale control measures, in particular the immunization of foxes by means of vaccination baits used throughout the country, as well as the regular vaccination of domestic animals, wild animal rabies has been considered eradicated in Germany since 2008. According to the Robert Koch Institute, there is currently no danger of contracting rabies directly or indirectly from a wild animal. Accordingly, there is also no need for a preventive vaccination for humans. Exceptions are people who work with rabies viruses in the laboratory, for example or those who have contact with bats. Bats could also be carriers of rabies in Germany. However, the risk is extremely low. So far, 5 cases of bat rabies have been registered in Europe.
Caution when traveling to risk areas!
However, caution is advised in any case when traveling to rabies risk countries (Africa, Asia including Russia, Balkan countries, Turkey) and especially when having contact with animals in these countries. Here, pets or stray animals are rarely vaccinated and even popular tourist activities, such as feeding wild monkeys, carry a high risk of being bitten and infected with diseases such as rabies. Vaccination may be advisable for extended stays in high-risk areas.
Europe, Australia, North America and large parts of South, Central and Latin America are considered rabies-free.
"Foxes that are not shy are sick!"
Again and again, we receive calls from people who get worried after meeting a fox, which does not immediately flee in panic at the sight of a human.
In most cases, however, the concern is completely unfounded. Foxes are cultural followers. Just like other wild animals, they are spending more and more time in human proximity. Wherever humans offer the fox something edible – whether intentionally or unintentionally – it finds readily available food. Freely accessible cat food, compost heaps, rubbish bags or similar – all this attracts them. Sometimes foxes are also deliberately fed by residents who want to observe wild animals at close range in the garden.
Please do not feed!
Foxes quickly realize that they are not threatened by danger in the vicinity of humans and that no one hunts them in settlements. They increasingly lose their natural shyness. This in turn often leads to the assumption that "something is wrong" with the fox. The fear of attacks, rabies, fox tapeworm or other diseases quickly creeps over the residents. In the end people fear that this "conspicuous" fox in the village is a risk for humans and pets and that it must be captured or even shot.
Problems of this kind can be avoided by not offering the animals any special incentives to stay in human proximity. Feeding should be refrained for the sake of the animals. If you actually meet a healthy, curious fox on the street, this is – especially in rural areas near the forest – no reason for concern.
Recognizing sick animals
Only in the case of foxes that look conspicuously ill, have shaggy, partly bald fur or scabby skin and are possibly infected with mange, intervention is necessary. At TIERART, we have often taken in and treated such foxes in the past.
"Foxes transmit fox tapeworm!"
What is fox tapeworm?
The fox tapeworm (Echinococcus) is an endoparasite whose main host is the fox. The adult tapeworms live in the small intestine of infected individuals, and their eggs are excreted in feces. As the definitive host, the fox is adapted to the parasite and bears little damage even in the case of heavy infestation. The excreted eggs are ingested by intermediate hosts, usually rodents such as mice. There they further develop into larvae and reach organs such as the liver or lungs via the bloodstream, where they form so-called fins. The intermediate host is gradually weakened more and more and becomes easy prey for foxes or other predators, which thus become infected with the tapeworm. In their organism, the larvae can develop into adult tapeworms and excrete eggs again. The lifecycle starts again.
Humans represent are a so-called "dead-end" host for the fox tapeworm, since their lifecycle can not be finished in the human body. There is no possibility to reach the fox as its definitive host from here: It is well known that foxes do not eat people. An infection is called echinococcosis and causes massive damage if left untreated.
What is the probability of contracting echinococcosis?
According to the Robert Koch Institute, in Germany about 30 people become infected each year – far fewer than are injured annually by lightning strikes, for example. Obviously, the risk of becoming infected with fox tapeworm in Germany is extremely low. Furthermore, according to studies, most cases of the disease are in risk groups. For example, people who work in agriculture, forestry or hunting have a higher risk. They are often in contact with dead animals or stirred-up dust, which can potentially contain fox tapeworm eggs. Nevertheless, fox tapeworm infection in humans is one of the rarest parasitoses in Europe. Infection can only occur through oral ingestion of tapeworm eggs. This can be prevented by simple hygiene measures. like washing hands thoroughly after contact with soil, such as gardening or picking mushrooms, or after contact with animals. Pets, especially those that eat mice (mouse = intermediate host), should of course be dewormed regularly. Fruits and vegetables should also be washed before consumption. If you also heat food to 60°C, this will reliably kill tapeworm eggs.
Can I get infected by picking and eating mushrooms and wild berries?
The widespread opinion that especially the consumption of unwashed berries and mushrooms can easily lead to infections with fox tapeworm is doubted by experts. No case is known in which an echinococcosis patient has demonstrably contracted the disease in this way. On closer inspection, the probability of wild berries being contaminated with fox excrement (this is a prerequisite for a possible risk of infection) is also extremely low. Foxes have no particular reason to explicitly defecate on fruit, especially since the bushes usually have thorns and would make the matter rather unpleasant for the fox. Experts also believe that the single ingestion of tapeworm eggs does not necessarily trigger an infection, but the risk increases only with repeated contact.
Can my dog get infected by foxes in the area?
When foxes appear in settlements, unfortunately, often quickly arises the concern that they could transmit diseases to humans or pets. However, the transmission of the fox tapeworm to foxes, as well as dogs and cats, occurs exclusively through eating infected intermediate hosts. Definitive hosts (foxes and other carnivores) cannot become infected by contact with each other with stages that can grow into adult tapeworms. Cats, but also dogs, can nevertheless become infected with the fox tapeworm by eating infected mice. Regular deworming with a suitable product, as well as hygiene in the daily handling of the pet, should be a matter of course.
Even if the fox tapeworm comes to many people's minds when they see a fox, the risk of infection is negligible.
"Mangy foxes are highly contagious!"
Probably everyone knows the expression "mangy fox". But what exactly does it mean? And to what extent is mange a danger for pets or humans?
What is mange?
Mange is a skin disease that can affect mammals and birds. It is caused by parasitic mites that embed themselves in the skin.
Sarcoptes spp. burrow into the epidermis where they deposit feces and eggs. This causes an allergic reaction in the host animal and the development of violently itchy pustules that can quickly become inflamed from scratching. As the disease progresses, infected animals increasingly lose fur and the skin appears red, crusted and scaly. In the final stage, individual parts of the body, such as the ears, eye area, hindlegs and tail, or almost the entire body are often naked. If left untreated, mange in foxes and other canines often leads to death within 3 months. However, there are also cases where the disease heals or persists without symptoms. Such fox populations are thought to have adapted or developed resistance to the parasite.
Can my pet get infected?
Although the disease is highly contagious, it is only transmissible through direct contact with diseased animals. Dogs could therefore become infected, for example, through physical contact with infested foxes or fox dens. The mites can survive in skin remains for up to 3 weeks under favorable conditions, but the risk of infection through the environment is extremely low. Should the disease nevertheless occur, there are reliable preparations for treatment (e.g. Stronghold or Advocate), which kill the parasites after only one application.
Is mange transmissible to humans?
The mange mite is very host specific. Humans are a false host for the pathogen – the mites cannot reproduce here. Nevertheless, contact with infected (domestic) animals can lead to an itchy skin disease known as pseudo-scabies. If there is no constant re-infection, it will heal within 2 weeks even without treatment.
How do I recognize an infected fox?
In addition to the above-mentioned symptoms such as bald, scaly skin areas and frequent intense scratching, animals suffering from mange often also show behavioral abnormalities. It is not uncommon for them to roam aimlessly during the day and shed any shyness towards humans. In addition, they lose weight, are dehydrated and have inflamed eyes. In the past, we have repeatedly received reports of cases where diseased foxes in the terminal stage have sought shelter in close human proximity. In abandoned chicken coops, in the straw storage of the horse stable or in garden sheds, residents discovered the sick animals, which showed no tendency to run away even when approached. Especially in closed rooms, furthermore, a typical, very unpleasant odor is noticeable.
But CAUTION: Trustfulness alone is not a sign of illness! Young foxes in particular often dare to get very close to people out of curiosity. But also adult animals in settlements or cities are accustomed to the presence of people and have never known them as an enemy, because there of course no hunting takes place.