I have actually tried to research this for years since raccoons are known to be on the forefront of just about anything referring to rabies. Which, of course, it should be near the top, raccoons are definitely known to be a huge carrier of rabies, in fact, they are on the top of the list, according to a 2015 Rabies Surveillance Report.
But is rabies that much of a threat from raccoons? Well, not really. While Rabies is definitely a deadly viral infection to have, only 2 cases in the last 15 years of human-induced rabies have come from raccoons, the most common giver of rabies according to the CDC, are… Bats.
Of the 34 cases of rabies occurring in humans that have occurred from 2003 to 2013, 22 of those arose from bites from bats, many from a particular bat, the Tadarida Brasiliensis. Of the rest, 9 more came from dogs, and one was unknown. So out of all the wild animals that humans get rabies from, you should be more afraid of bats, then you should be of raccoons, depending on species.
That is not to say that you should just run out and snuggle with a wild raccoon, hell no. Raccoons are known to be vicious after the onset of puberty, and can cause severe lacerations when provoked. Raccoons can also be a vector of a myriad of diseases, including Roundworm and Leptospirosis, which can be in their feces or even on their fur. But raccoons should not be a figurehead of fear due to their susceptibility to rabies, as most raccoons don’t have the disease.
Rabies, as well as being contagious rarely, can also cause an animal to lash out, resulting in a myriad of news articles about rabies infected animals attacking people. But despite what the news may have you believe, this also occures very rarely.
It would also behoove us to find more humane ways of detecting rabies in an animal, as the only known method to date is by shooting the animal dead, and then decapitating the dead body to test the brain tissue. This has been the bane of the few people who’s pets were suspected of having rabies.
My advice, would be not to unnecessarily fear wild animals for the more fact that they are wild animals, but at the same time, don’t be stupid. Petting a wild raccoon should obviously be a No-go, but raccoon kits can make decent domesticated pets before puberty, and you can watch them or even hand them food safely without fear of assault, and this is true for most small mammals.
Then again, I really enjoy wildlife, so maybe I am just biased on this issue.