Foxes: What threat to health do they pose?
Foxes are common in towns and the countryside - but what risk do they pose to humans.
People are extra wary of the dog-like creatures after the 2013 case of a four week old baby boy being treated in hospital following an attack by a fox in his bedroom in Bromley, south-east London.
Here are our FAQs about foxes and health.
Do foxes routinely attack humans?
No, foxes are usually wary of people and run away to avoid adults and children. They can learn to trust people who are not causing them harm and may appear quite bold - but this is unlikely to be a sign of aggression.
Do foxes carry disease?
Yes, although in the UK there is little or no danger of contracting disease from foxes. Although they can carry the same diseases as domestic dogs it is rare for a fox to transmit disease to humans.
What diseases do foxes have?
Foxes have a variety of fleas and ticks and carry some diseases, including:
The the most common disease they can transmit is toxocariasis from the roundworm (Toxocara canis). The worms produce eggs which are then released in the faeces of infected animals and contaminate soil.
You are more likely to catch toxocariasis from cat or dog faeces than fox. In extreme cases it can lead to blindness which is why in recent years dog owners have been encouraged to use poop-a-scoops. It has been reported in people of all ages but it usually affects children aged between one and four who are most at risk because their play habits make them more likely to come into contact with contaminated soil.
It's therefore important to make sure fox faeces is removed as soon as possible and that children wash their hands after playing outdoors and before they eat.
Treatment for toxocariasis involves taking medication to kill the parasites and occasionally laser treatment to kill larvae in the eye. Most people will quickly make a full recovery and won't experience any long-term complications.
It is possible to get mange from foxes but the risk is very low, as direct contact is the most likely source of infection.
The fox strain of mange (Sarcoptes scabiei var. canis) can be transmitted to humans but cannot persist, so people infected develop a rash that naturally resolves in a few weeks. The chances of infection increase with the degree of contact so it is not advisable to handle mangy foxes without protection.
A fox bite is painful but offers less potential for infection than a domestic cat bite or scratch. Unless you are a wildlife rescuer fox bites are rare. However, it is always wise to seek antibiotic treatment for any animal bite, plus vaccination against tetanus.
How can we protect ourselves from foxes?
The most likely reason for a fox to enter your garden is in search of food so one of the best ways to protect yourself is to remove the attraction. This means:
- If you use bags for your rubbish, only put them out on the morning of collection
- Do not leave food out for foxes or other animals and if you feed the birds try and choose a special feeder
- Clear away fruit that has fallen from trees
- Bring toys, shoes etc inside at night as cubs like to chew these items and play with them
- Seal holes and get rid of fox friendly hiding places
- It may also deter foxes if you put prickly plants around the garden, making sure these are not likely to injure children.