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Health officials issue rabies warning after raccoon visits North Dakota bar

Rabies "attacks the nervous system and causes swelling of the brain. There is no treatment and rabies is nearly always fatal," according to the North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services.

1024px-Raccoon_(Procyon_lotor)_2.jpg
Representative photo of a raccoon.
Darkone via Wikimedia Commons
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MADDOCK, N.D. — North Dakota health officials are issuing a warning after someone brought a raccoon into the Maddock Bar, resulting in patrons possibly being exposed to rabies.

The state Department of Health and Human Services put out the warning Tuesday, Sept. 13, saying the raccoon was brought into the bar on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Health officials said anyone bitten by the raccoon or anyone who had contact with the raccoon’s saliva should speak with a health care provider as soon as possible regarding the risk of rabies.

“Because rabies is such a serious disease with a nearly 100% fatality rate, we are making this information available to the public as a precautionary measure,” said Amanda Bakken, a state epidemiologist.

Bar manager Cindy Smith said she was working the night that a woman brought the raccoon into the bar in Maddock, a Benson County town in northeast North Dakota.

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"A local girl came in, and she had been drinking," Smith said. Tucked under her arms was the raccoon in question.

Bar management immediately told the woman that she had to leave, and she proceeded to show a few bar patrons the raccoon before Smith was able to corral her out the door, Smith said.

Smith said she's heard the woman found the raccoon as a baby on the side of the road, nearly dead.

The raccoon never touched the floor or another customer, according to Smith. She said the animal "definitely didn't bite anyone."

"We're on a big raccoon hunt in Maddock," Smith joked.

She says the bar's staff and customers named the animal "Rocky the Raccoon," and says they all plan to dress up as raccoons this Halloween. She hopes that no more animals will enter their establishment.

"Some locals actually don't believe it happened," Smith said of the raccoon's visit to the bar.

Police believe it did happened and, according to Smith, are looking into the matter. It is illegal in North Dakota to keep a raccoon or skunk as a pet, health officials said.

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The owner of the raccoon was arrested on an unrelated charge on Thursday, Sept. 8, according to the Benson County Sheriff's Office.

Rabies, a viral infection, affects mammals, including humans. The virus circulates in wild animals in the U.S. and is most commonly found in bats, raccoons, skunks, coyotes and foxes. Rabid wildlife can spread rabies to unvaccinated cats, dogs and farm animals, which can then infect people.

"The virus is most often transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Rabies can also be transmitted if saliva or nervous system tissue from a rabid animal enters open cuts and wounds or the eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus attacks the nervous system and causes swelling of the brain. There is no treatment and rabies is nearly always fatal," the department said in its warning.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends taking these precautions to reduce the risk of rabies:

  • Try to keep stray animals and wildlife, especially skunks, away from pets and livestock.
  • Keep dogs, cats, ferrets and horses up to date on rabies vaccinations.
  • Do not leave exposed garbage or pet food outside because it could attract wild or stray animals.
  • Do not approach unfamiliar or wild animals.
  • Learn how to prevent animal bites, especially to children. Teach children never to handle or approach unknown animals without permission from a parent or guardian and the animal's owner.
  • Report stray animals or animals acting unusually to local animal control officials.
  • Bat-proof your home to prevent bats from nesting inside and getting access to people or pets.
  • Avoid contact with animals while traveling, especially internationally.

Six rabid animals have been reported in North Dakota so far this year, including two bats, two cats, a cow and a skunk. For more information about rabies, visit  ndhealth.gov/disease/rabies .

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