Use gloves, soap and common sense when dealing with fur
The season is in full swing now. Most of us are working our traplines by day, and working our fur by night. It’s a tiring, strenuous time of year, but it’s what we’ve been waiting for. We might complain about the long hours, sore muscles and lack of sleep, but in truth, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
In this favorite time of year, it would be a crying shame to contract a disease because you were sloppy or careless handling fur. Every year, it happens. Sure as sunrise, it’ll happen again this year to somebody who’s reading these words and thinking, “Nah, that will never happen to me.”
First of all, let me make an admission here: contracting a serious disease from skinning furbearers or small game animals (usually raccoons, but also squirrels, rabbits, muskrats and other species) is rare, but it does happen. A friend of mine caught a dose of tularemia once from skinning rabbits, and he tells me you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.
Raccoon roundworm, or baylisascaris, is also a hazard. It can cause serious illness within a week. Symptoms include tiredness, lack of coordination, loss of muscle control, blindness and coma.
Leptospirosis is caused by bacteria carried in the urine of rats, raccoons, and some other animals. Leptospirosis can cause influenza-like symptoms, severe head and muscle aches, high fever and, in some cases, serious liver and kidney problems.
And then, of course, there’s rabies. Rabies is caused by a virus and is almost always fatal. It is spread through a bite by an infected animal or by contact with brain and other tissue from that animal.
The good news is that it’s fairly easy to reduce the risk of catching any of these diseases to practically zero. Common sense is the best prevention, and it starts in the field. If you catch an animal that looks sick, don’t take a chance. Kill it and discard it. If you see an animal while running your traps that isn’t behaving normally or doesn’t exhibit any fear or caution, kill it and leave it alone.
When you handle furbearers, wash your hands afterwards, especially before eating or drinking anything. When you get the critters to the fur shed, ALWAYS wear latex or vinyl gloves when skinning, fleshing and handling green or dried fur, and also when dealing with skinned carcasses, cleaning skinning equipment and the like. Don’t eat or drink while you’re skinning. If you cut yourself, immediately use a strong disinfectant such as rubbing alcohol to thoroughly wash the wound, and bandage it securely before resuming work, using a fresh glove. When you finish handling fur, remove the gloves and thoroughly wash your hands and arms with warm, soapy water. Follow up with hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol.
You might be one of the lucky ones, like my trapping partner. Bill is old-school, and he steadfastly refuses to wear gloves. He’s skinned and fleshed thousands upon thousands of critters with no ill effects. But you just never know. The ’coon he fleshes tomorrow might be the one that gives him an unwelcome bug.
Of course, the one I skin tomorrow might give me a bug, too, but it’s going to have to get around my latex gloves to get to me.
Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark., is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website at www.treblehookunlimited.com.