Skunk Toxic Shock Syndrome In Humans

Most people have no problem identifying a North American skunk by sight or smell. Skunks are of the order Carnivora, family Mephitidae. The six species that exist in North America are the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), the Western spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis), the Eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorious), two species of hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus mesoleucus and Conepatus leukonutus), and the hooded skunk (Mephitis macroura). Skunks are primarily crepuscular—most active during twilight, dawn, and dusk. Skunks have excellent hearing and sense of smell but do not see well.1

When people are exposed, particularly if sprayed into the eyes, it can cause short-term stinging, burning, redness, and tearing. This can make it difficult to open the eyes for a few minutes. Breathing it in can irritate the lungs. The odor has the potential to worsen asthma symptoms, but this is quite rare.

Skunk Facts: Answers to Your Most Common Questions About Skunks

Unfortunately for pretty much everyone, skunks aren’t picky about choosing their homes. They can be found in forests, prairies, and even deserts. Though they prefer to live in areas without much human activity, some skunks can be found in farmland and even residential neighborhoods. They can be found almost everywhere in the United States in addition to southern Canada and Northern Mexico.

Like many animals, skunks like to nest in holes in the ground. In preference to digging their own burrows, they prefer to move into burrows deserted by other animals.

A female skunk gives birth to her litter in late spring. A single skunk may give birth to as many as twelve baby skunks, known as kits. The babies are born blind and totally reliant on their mother for care. While the kits are nursing, the mother will keep them in the den. It takes about 2.5 months for the kits to emerge from their den and attain independence from their mother.

Skunks are omnivores, which means their diet contains both meat and plants. However, their preference is to eat insects. They enjoy grasshoppers, crickets, and caterpillars. Only when they are not able to get enough of their preferred food do they begin branching out to other sources of nourishment. A hungry skunk may try eating mice, fruit, and even fish. The skunk is not a hunter at heart and is not able to catch most swift moving prey.

Spraying is the reason that most of us are familiar with skunks. When they don’t choose to spray, skunks are relatively harmless. You may have a skunk on your property and be totally unaware of it if they choose not to spray. But when they raise their tails, beware! Skunks mostly decide to spray when threatened. In the wild, it is their best defense against much larger predators like coyotes and foxes.

The skunk has almost no natural predators and is avoided by most predators. The only creatures that pose a significant risk to a a skunk are birds such as eagles, which can sometimes manage to carry the skunk away before it has time to activate its spray.

Luckily, skunks almost never spray without warning. They can target you from a strong dose of spray from several meters away, but they usually do not spray immediately after being startled. If you encounter a skunk that begins raising its tail and turns its back towards you, get away as quickly as possible. If you can’t before it sprays, make sure to cover your eyes, as the spray can cause temporary blindness.

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Toxic shock syndrome is a rare, life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections. Often toxic shock syndrome results from toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, but the condition may also be caused by toxins produced by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria.

Toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone, including men, children and postmenopausal women. Risk factors for toxic shock syndrome include skin wounds, surgery, and the use of tampons and other devices, such as menstrual cups, contraceptive sponges or diaphragms.

Possible signs and symptoms of toxic shock syndrome include:

  • A sudden high fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • A rash resembling a sunburn, particularly on your palms and soles
  • Confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Redness of your eyes, mouth and throat
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Call your doctor immediately if you have signs or symptoms of toxic shock syndrome. This is especially important if youve recently used tampons or if you have a skin or wound infection.

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    Skunks are docile but will defend themselves when threatened. A skunks first line of defense is defensive posturing. A skunk will hiss, stamp its feet, and raise its tail as a warning. If the warnings are ignored, a skunk will spray anal gland secretions (referred to as either spray or musk).

    Skunks have two anal glands, one on each side of the anus. The anal gland secretions contain a mixture of sulfur-containing thiols. The odor—which has been described as similar to that of a combination of rotten eggs, garlic, and burnt rubber—tends to drive away most predators.2 Skunks can spray these secretions 7 to 15 ft (2 to 5 meters) and are highly accurate in their aim. Getting sprayed by a skunk is commonly called being skunked. Skunk spray has been used as a biological weapon.2

    The skunks anal gland secretions contain seven major volatile components: three major thiols, three major thioacetates, and a methylquinoline. These are divided into thiols and acetate derivatives of the thiols. Two of these thiols, (E)-2-butene-1-thiol and 3-methyl-1-butanethiol, are responsible for the repellent odor. These two thiols constitute 51% to 70% of the anal gland secretions.

    The thioacetates are not as initially odiferous on contact but are converted to more potent thiols with the addition of water. This chemical reaction may explain why some animals continue to smell skunky after a bath—thioacetates trapped in fur continue to release thiols under damp conditions.

    The seventh component is an alkaloid 2-methylquinoline, which is not as volatile as the thiols and has a nitrogenous base. The chemical composition and percentages of the volatile components may vary among skunk species. Numerous minor components differ among individual skunks and species.3,4


    How long does it take to get toxic shock syndrome?

    The onset of symptoms is usually sudden. Toxic shock syndrome tends to occur within days of the bacteria invading your bloodstream. This doesn’t mean that you will get toxic shock syndrome every time you have staph or strep infection, or that you will get it from leaving a tampon in longer than eight hours.

    How do I know if I have toxic shock syndrome?

    Toxic shock syndrome
    • a high temperature.
    • flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, feeling cold, feeling tired or exhausted, an aching body, a sore throat and a cough.
    • feeling and being sick.
    • diarrhoea.
    • a widespread sunburn-like rash.
    • lips, tongue and the whites of the eyes turning a bright red.
    • dizziness or fainting.

    Is toxic shock syndrome curable?

    Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare but very serious infection. TSS is a medical emergency. So it’s important to know how to prevent it and what signs to watch for. With prompt treatment, it’s usually cured.