PAWS Lends a Hand in Important Research

As professionals on the front lines of wildlife care, the staff at PAWS Wildlife Center primarily works to rehabilitate sick and injured animals. Sometimes, however, just the detection of an illness itself becomes a chance to make a difference.

Wild animals are sometimes the first sentinels to emerging zoonotic diseases. A zoonotic disease is one that can be passed between animals and humans. When PAWS Wildlife Center staff encounters an animal who presents with atypical symptoms, it’s an opportunity to help researchers and wildlife epidemiologists detect these dangerous diseases.

Over the past several years, PAWS has received numerous adult Big Brown Bats for rehabilitation. Some of these bats show up unable to fly, with swollen wing joints. Often, it’s due to a cat attack; however, when there’s no broken skin, it could be a disease.

PAWS turned over six of these Big Brown Bats to Northwest Zoo Path in Monroe for further study. The evidence was then studied by the Washington State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the University of California, Davis. Together, these researchers discovered the first documented case of a viable poxvirus in a bat species. PAWS is also providing help with a unique virus appearing in Raccoons.

The Raccoon polyomavirus affects the Raccoon’s brain, causing what looks like canine distemper. In January, PAWS submitted a Raccoon with a large facial tumor that was confirmed to be caused by this disease—the first case documented from Washington. We receive many Raccoons we suspect are suffering from the canine distemper virus who actually may have the Raccoon polyomavirus.

PAWS also collects tick specimens from our wild patients for surveillance of tick-borne diseases (Lyme disease and others), as well as blood samples for the surveillance of Cryptococcus gattii in wildlife species. This is a new disease emerging in the Pacific Northwest that is potentially fatal to humans, domestic animals and wildlife. It has been found in people, dogs, cats, horses, and even marine mammals.

Thanks to your support, PAWS Wildlife Center will not only care for thousands of animals this year, but will continue providing valuable research and disease surveillance to the scientific community. One day, these important partnerships could help unravel the mystery of a zoonotic disease, perhaps even saving many more lives beyond our doors.

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