Dartmouth health officials are looking for anyone that may have come into contact with a young woodchuck over the weekend at John George Farms.

The incident happened early Sunday evening when a child at the ice cream business picked up what appeared to be a young woodchuck and put it in a box.

"It was reported to us that the woodchuck was handled with their bare hands," Board of Health Director Christopher Michaud said.

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Michaud says that touching an animal like a woodchuck can be dangerous because the species has been known to carry rabies in Massachusetts, even if the animal looks perfectly healthy.

While the Board of Health is aware of the child's contact with the woodchuck, there is uncertainty about how many other people may have come in contact with the mammal.

"With any contact with wildlife there is a risk factor, especially because we don't have the animal available for testing," Michaud said.

Dartmouth's Board of Health wants to put anyone who had exposure with the woodchuck in touch with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and give them advice about contacting their physician.

Is It OK to Touch Wildlife?

The director offered a warning about touching animals found in the wild.

"You don't want to touch any wildlife because there are a variety of diseases that wildlife can carry," Michaud said. "That includes birds like ducks, geese or seagulls. The public should never contact wildlife. Even a healthy animal can be harmed by the contact."

Michaud says people sometimes mistake young animals that may be alone as abandoned by their mother, but this is nature working the way it should as the mother gathers food.

"Often people will pick up baby deer at this time of the year, then the mother doesn't return and the state says to put the baby deer back, and the baby deer suffers a horrible outcome.

"The best rule of thumb is to leave the handling of wildlife to the professionals," Michaud said. "Do not handle any wildlife whatsoever."

What to Do

If you or someone you know came in contact with a woodchuck at John George Farms, please contact the Massachusetts Department of Public Health at 617- 983-6800 (available 24 hours/7 days a week) or your health care provider for a rabies exposure risk assessment as soon as possible.

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