If you’ve recently come across an opossum, more commonly known as a possum, rabies might be on your mind. These scavengers are notorious for going through garbage, hunting everything from snakes to mice, and lurking near road kill. And who could forget their unsightly appearance. With coarse hair, small dark eyes, pointed pink snouts and rat-like tails, they’re not exactly the more adorable creatures one could encounter in the wild. But just because they look the part doesn’t necessarily mean that opossums have rabies or can carry diseases. Check out the most frequently-asked questions and lesser-known facts below.

rabies and opossums and other disease

Do Opossums Carry Rabies?

Any mammal can get rabies, but it’s extremely rare for an opossum. It’s believed that their low body temperature may inhibit the virus and make it difficult for it to survive. While there are a few reports each year where opossums do carry rabies, cases in wildlife such as bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes are more prevalent.

Do Opossums Carry Diseases?

Though it’s unlikely for them to transmit rabies, opossums can sometimes carry harmful germs and pathogens that cause diseases such as leptospirosis. Transmitted through contaminated urine or other bodily fluids from an infected animal, this bacterial disease can impact humans and wildlife. Raccoons, skunks, deer, squirrels and rodents can all be infected without any true signs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some people who contract leptospirosis may not have symptoms, but others could have nonspecific flu-like symptoms that usually resolve without medical treatment. Sometimes, however, symptoms reappear and can lead to more severe diseases. To prevent the spread of leptospirosis from wildlife, avoid swallowing water from lakes, rivers or swamps, and steer clear of environments potentially contaminated with animal urine.

Do Opossums Bite?

Just like any scared animal, it’s possible for opossums to bite in defense. If they feel cornered or threatened, opossums will use several escape strategies ranging from playing dead to hissing. Biting is rare, but people should avoid contact with all wild animals to eliminate the risk.

What are the Signs of a Rabid Opossum?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the signs of a rabid opossum are essentially the same in all animals. Initial symptoms may include fever, vomiting, lethargy and a lack of interest in eating. Within a few days, signs usually progress to cranial nerve dysfunction, cerebral dysfunction, seizures, weakness, paralysis, difficulty breathing and swallowing, abnormal behavior, aggression and/or self-mutilation and excessive salivation.

Is Hissing a Sign of a Rabid Opossum?

Hissing is a defense mechanism, not a sign of a rabid opossum. Fortunately, these marsupials are not aggressive unless cornered, but they have developed escape strategies when threatened. In an attempt to ward off predators, opossums may hiss, bare their teeth, growl and exude a repugnant smell.

Regardless of whether an opossum has rabies, it can be a nuisance. If you need help removing opossums from your property, contact a Terminix® professional to schedule a free inspection today.