Chipmunks are small animals that grow between 8.5 and 11.5 inches in length. Some people are under the impression that chipmunks would make good pets. Unfortunately, that theory could not be further from the truth. So, do chipmunks carry diseases?
Chipmunks carry diseases. These diseases include salmonella, hantavirus, and plague. They are wild animals, and should not be handled. They rarely carry rabies, though a bite from a chipmunk could carry with it the risk of serious infection to a human, even leading up to tissue necrosis and organ failure.
Where Do Chipmunks Live
Chipmunks are known for the extensive tunnels they build as shelters. The tunnels will extend for miles with multiple rooms and entrances. While chipmunks tend to live in the wild, they will sometimes make their way onto someone’s property.
The first thought that comes to mind when first seeing one of these animals is harmless. However, it is not recommended for humans to approach a chipmunk, even if it is a baby.
1. Zoonotic Illnesses
Diseases transmitted from animals to humans are known as zoonotic illness. These illnesses are transmitted through contact, bites, and insects. Baby chipmunks generally do not carry diseases but the insects, ticks, lice, and mites, do spread diseases and infestations.
It is not recommended to make contact with a baby chipmunk because they can be infested with ticks, which carry Lyme disease. Chipmunks do not spread Lyme disease to humans but ticks can.
Another zoonotic illness that chipmunks carry is rabies. While these cases are very rare, you should always think of the chipmunks as a rabies-infested animal. Rabies is spread to humans through direct contact with nervous/brain system tissue or saliva from an infected chipmunk.
However, the most common rabies transmission is a bite. Fortunately, chipmunks rarely develop rabies after being bitten by an infected animal. Chipmunks that are infected with rabies are aggressive and can have foam around their noses and mouths.
Chipmunks are often infested with parasites, such as roundworms. These infestations can spread to dogs and from there spread to humans through contact with their feces.
Roundworm infection can be very dangerous if untreated.
The first sign of a roundworm infection is malnourishment, which will lead to organ failure and death if untreated.
Cats and some dog breeds will kill chipmunks if they get the opportunity. If you discover a dead chipmunk on your property, you should assess your dog or cat.
If any signs of the roundworm infection are present, you should immediately contact your vet. Puppies are at a higher risk of death related to roundworm infections than adult dogs.
Roundworms can also spread from chipmunk feces to dogs through the nasal and oral passageways. When the dog sniffs or licks the feces that are infected with roundworms, the microscopic eggs will enter the nose and/or mouth.
Chipmunks also carry salmonella bacteria in their intestines. While most cases of salmonella are spread through contaminated food, it can also through contact with infected animal feces. Salmonella infection leads to abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and fever.
The onset of symptoms generally occurs between 12 and 72 hours after infection, according to the CDC. In most cases, the symptoms will subside after four to seven days. Severe cases will require hospitalization, fluid replacement, and antibiotics.
Infants, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are at the highest risk. Again, contaminated food is the most common cause of salmonella. But, it is also transmitted through feces from an infected animal.
Chipmunks also carry hantaviruses, which can lead to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) and Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome (HFRS).
Hantaviruses are spread through direct contact with saliva, urine, and feces of an infected animal. The illness can also spread through bites from infected animals.
The cotton rat, deer mouse, rice rate, and white-footed mouse are the most common rodents that carry hantavirus in the United States. However, the disease has also been reported in chipmunks and other rodents.
HPS is a severe respiratory disease that can turn fatal if left untreated. It recommended to not make contact with chipmunks and other rodents because the risk of HPS is too high. HPS is rarely spread from person to person.
However, Argentina and Chile officials have reported person-to-person transmission with the Andes virus, a type of hantavirus.
5. Symptoms Of HPS
The early symptoms of HPS include fever, muscle aches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and headache. Headaches and abdominal discomfort are reported less often than other symptoms.
Between four and 10 days, other symptoms will appear. These symptoms include shortness of breath and coughing. If treated properly, the patient will recover.
But, even with treatment, there is still a high risk of fatality.
The plague is a disease that is transmitted from chipmunks and other mammals to humans. In most cases, the transmission is through a bite from an infected rodent flea. However, the disease can also spread through direct contact with the infected animal. If left untreated, the disease can lead to death.
The plague has the tendency to take different clinical forms, including septicemic, bubonic, and pneumonic. Each type of plague causes different types of symptoms.
Septicemic plague causes fatigue, shock, chills, fever, and abdominal discomfort. Another symptom that is reported in septicemic plague is bleeding into the skin but it is less rare.
Bubonic plague causes headache, fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and chills. This type of plague is most often caused by an infected rodent flea bite. If left untreated, the disease will spread throughout the body and cause death.
Pneumonic plague causes headache, fatigue, and fever. Pneumonia will also set in quickly after infection. This illness will lead to shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain.
This is the most serious type of plague because it can be transmitted from person to person through infectious droplets.
Chipmunks are cute, little furry animals that should not be handled. If you are dealing with an infestation of chipmunks, you should contact your local exterminator.
It is also recommended to keep cats and dogs as far away from chipmunks as possible. The risk of illness is just too high to ignore a chipmunk infestation.