Are 'Rabid' Squirrels Attacking People in Queens? Unusual, Unprovoked Attacks Reported

New York public health authorities believe it is unlikely that the squirrels are carrying the rabies virus.

Residents of a Queens neighborhood said that they were afraid to leave homes due to aggressive squirrel attacks that happened in the last few weeks. Meanwhile, some reports claim that these are rabies-infected animals.

Micheline Frederick, a victim of the squirrel attack, showed a bruise on her wrist and said that a squirrel landed and sank its teeth into her fingers and hand. "We're wrestling in the snow and there's blood everywhere and my fingers getting chewed and it won't let go. Eventually, it just stopped and there I was a big bloody mess," she said.

As per Frederick, the unprovoked animal went after her as she stood on the front stoop of her Rego Park home on 65th Drive in Queens. Last week, another woman said that when she was walking up to her home in the same locality, a squirrel jumped on her back and bit her arm. While the city's Department of Health asked the local residents to hire a licensed trapper, the large metal traps have not yet captured any squirrels.

Aggressive squirrels attack NYC residents Wikimedia commons

Are These Squirrels Carrying Rabies?

The reason behind the sudden aggressive behavior is not clear. But the New York public health authorities said that it was unlikely that the squirrels were carrying the rabies virus, which causes aggression in animals.

Rabies can be transmitted through direct contacts such as broken skin, mucous membranes in the eyes, mouth and nose besides saliva and brain/nervous system tissue from an infected animal. The most common carriers of this virus are raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. Domestic animals like cats dogs and cattle can also catch the virus.

Clinical signs of rabies in animals include cerebral dysfunction, cranial nerve dysfunction, ataxia, weakness, paralysis, seizures, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, abnormal behavior and aggression.

However, the New York city's health departments pointed to data showing that squirrels rarely carry rabies. According to the CDC, small rodents like squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats and mice, apart from lagomorphs including rabbits and hares are almost never found to have been infected with rabies. They are not known to transmit rabies to humans.

A tweet from New York City's only wildlife rehabilitation and education center, Wild Bird Fund said, "Squirrels are not 'vicious.' This behavior is the result of someone constantly hand-feeding these wild animals or illegally hand raising babies as pets and then dumping them outside once they discover what a terrible mistake they made."

Brian Shapiro, New York director of state affairs for the Humane Society explained that squirrels generally maintain a distance from people as their natural behavior consists of finding safe shelter and looking for food. He also added that feeding wildlife, whether on purpose or not, does more harm than good because hand-fed wild animals gradually lose their fear of humans. "These occurrences can be reduced by respecting and appreciating wildlife from a distance. It's OK to feed squirrels, but do so from a feeder — never by hand," added Shapiro.

According to him, trapping these animals will not solve the issue. Instead, he recommended that orphaned wild animals including squirrels should be taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center and advised people to respect the presence of urban wildlife and keep a distance.