The research question of the day is “Do possums carry rabies?” The next question might be..why is the research question of the day “Do possums carry rabies?” Well…it has to do with Oreo the stray cat.
Oreo, my stray kitty, has lived outside since birth. I have been caring for him since his first love, Mrs M, passed three years ago. We get along fairly well. Part of the care and sheltering of Mr. Oreo involves feeding. If you are caring for an outdoor/indoor pet, you know that leaving food outside …especially after dark is a great big no..no. Other things come out at night. Things you don’t want to feed. Things like skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and the occasional possum. So, if you are feeding the feral almost domesticated kitty on a regular basis, it is imperative to bring the food in before it gets dark…Otherwise who knows what’s going to be out there.
Last winter, as a result of the polar vortex, I devised a feeding station for Mr. Oreo. It consisted of a sturdy cardboard box jammed under the patio furniture which was protected from the elements by a patio furniture cover. It worked pretty well. Put the food in the box. Mr. Oreo left his shelter – a well-insulated Rubbermaid tote equipped with an outdoor animal heating pad and surrounded by concrete bricks – went into the food station – the cardboard box – ate and then returned to his shelter. I made sure the food was in before dark. Oreo had something to nibble on throughout the day. All was well with the world – until I arrived home after dark one day, and tried to get the food inside.
Oreo was on the patio waiting to greet me. He was acting a little weird. Truthfully I don’t understand cat body language as well as I understand dog body language. I didn’t realize he was in warning mode. I reached into the box, and immediately felt a bone-crunching chomp on my right index finger. Then I saw the tell-tale tail. Damn possum!
Needless to say, I was not happy about the situation. What to do? Well..since I was not suffering from a traumatic injury…ER seemed a little over the top, so I took myself to Elmhurst hospital’s walk-in clinic, and stated upon arrival, “I’ve been bitten by a possum!” I was immediately taken into an examination room, and I could hear the doctor clacking away on some search engine most likely about possum bites. The nurse came in…The nurse liked cats. She understood. The doctor, on the other hand, was not sympathetic. “You were bitten by a possum?” (include a pregnant pause here) “Where were you bitten by a possum?” I held up my now bloody right index finger and pointed to it with my left index finger….He had never dealt with possum bites. He didn’t want to deal with possum bites either. He also told me that most mammals were capable of carrying rabies. I pointed out to him that possums are a different kind of mammal..they are marsupials. He did not know what a marsupial was. I lost confidence in him immediately. Any one of my students can tell you marsupials carry their young in pouches – like kangaroos. And they have been around longer than your average, every day, run of the mill mammal – like primates, for instance. Anyway, the nurse cleaned the wound, wrapped gauze around it…and I was sent to ER at the other end of town. I could hear laughing in the office area…I was not amused.
I get to ER…The clinic had already called ahead. The nurses were nice – they liked cats too. The doctor didn’t want to deal with possum bites, cats, or marsupials. I wanted to know if I needed to begin rabies shots, and get out of there. Again..loud clacking could be heard on many search engines…Do possums carry rabies? No one knew. Everyone was scratching their heads. More laughter could be heard from the office area. Apparently I had chosen a very quiet night at the emergency room because the entire team was trying to figure this one out.
Well, here’s the answer, folks. Possums are incapable of carrying the rabies virus because their body temperatures are too low to sustain it – most likely because they are marsupials. I did not need any rabies shots, nor do I show any signs of rabies. No howling at the moon, no fear of water, no irrational behavior.
Although the medical profession and the possum-loving people do not believe that possums carry rabies, I do not recommend that you pursue a possum to test this hypothesis. Possum bites are particularly painful, and who needs to listen to medical primates who are laughing their asses off because you fed a cat?