Eleven skunks sold as pets here and in the District last summer are being sought by federal and local health officials because the animals may be carriers of rabies.
Twelve skunks were sold by The Animal Hut pet shop, 4237 Wisconsin Ave. NW, between June 17 and the first week of August; another 24 were sold by the Docktor Pet Center in Harundale to persons living in the Anne Arundel County area.
Maryland officials have located all but one of the Harundale skunks through records kept by the pet store.
By Tuesday, three of the skunks had been tested by the Animal Hut. Although the skunks were found not to be infectious to humans, health officials say the tests do not determine whether the animals were incubating the disease.
James Clark, owner of The Animal Hut, said last week that he ordered the skunks from a farm in Minnesota and sold the de-scented animals for $75 each to residents of suburban Maryland.
Although District public health laws require pet shop owners to keep records of their sales of exotic pets, Clark said he was unaware of the regulations when he sold the animals and cannot remember who bought them.
The D.C. public health department last week issued a statement urging that anyone who had purchased one of the skunks from The Animal Hut or had been exposed to any of them contact their local health department.
"Although incidents of rabies in dogs and cats in this area have not occurred in many months," the D.C. health department statement said, "skunks, foxes, raccoons . . . must be considered potential rabies hazards. . . ."
Maryland residents having information or questions regarding the skunks are urged to call their local health departments. In the District, call the D.C. Animal Disease Control branch of the health department, at 576-6664.
Rabies is an infectious viral disease of the central nervous system, and can be transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. The virus causes convulsions and inability to swallow; eventually it lodges in the brain, and nearly always causes death.
In Maryland, it is illegal to keep a skunk. No state law in Virginia prohibits keeping skunks, but Fairfax County regulations outlaw the animals. In the District, no law prohibits keeping the animals, although in 1979 legislation was introduced to prohibit the importation and keeping of animals such as skunks, raccoons, foxes and opossums, as well as poisonous reptiles. The City Council has not acted on the bill.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, 236 skunks were shipped throughout the country last June by the Gem Animal Farm in Hutchinson, Minn.
The animals were raised with a skunk that died of rabies Dec. 29.
So far, authorities can account for only 59 of those 236 skunks.
"None of the animals sold by my shop showed any signs of illness," Clark said. "And there is no evidence that the skunk that died with rabies got it from the animal farm. He could have gotten it from the person who was taking care of it."