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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Skunks spreading rabies to Front Range


Rabies Confirmed in Coyote in Cortez

Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment

DENVER– A coyote in Cortez has tested positive for rabies according to lab results from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The Colorado Division of Wildlife and Montezuma County Health Department submitted the coyote for rabies testing after property owners reported it was acting strangely by trying to enter a fenced enclosure with dogs and showing no fear of loud noises or being approached by humans. Confirmed results suggest the coyote was infected by a rabid bat.

So far in 2010, the state health department and Colorado State University diagnostic laboratories have confirmed rabies in 138 animals. According to state health officials, 64 bats, 62 skunks, seven foxes, one domestic cat, one horse, one mule deer and one muskrat have tested positive for rabies this year. Colorado is on track to break a record for rabies in wildlife due to the spread of rabies in skunks from Eastern Colorado toward the Front Range.

“This is a good time to remind people to keep their pets’ rabies vaccinations up to date and to take a few simple precautions to avoid pets coming in contact with wildlife,” said Elisabeth Lawaczeck, state health veterinarian at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Having pets vaccinated is the simplest and most effective way to protect pets and family members from this deadly disease. I encourage pet owners to contact their veterinarian and get their pets up to date on vaccinations.”

Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals, resulting in a fatal disease. The virus is shed in the saliva of infected animals. People and animals get rabies from the bite of a rabid animal or direct contact with saliva from such an animal.

Lawaczeck said, “We have a cooperative surveillance project with local health departments, animal control agencies, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado State University to track the spread of the disease. In Colorado, bats and skunks are the most likely animals to test positive for rabies.”

Signs of rabies in animals include abnormal behavior such as nocturnal animals being active during the day, bats being found on the ground, wild animals approaching humans or other animals, wild animals having difficulty walking or moving, and unusual animal sounds such as excessive bellowing in cows or hissing/chirping in bats. Some animals with rabies will be very aggressive while others may appear almost catatonic.

State health officials warned that wildlife should never be fed. If a wild animal allows a person to approach and handle it, the animal probably is ill or injured and will bite in self-defense. A healthy animal usually will remain well hidden and avoid human contact. Any suspected rabid wild animal, such as a bat, skunk, fox or raccoon, should be reported to animal control authorities or, if the animal is sick or injured, a local Division of Wildlife office.

Lawaczeck advised taking the following precautions to prevent possible exposure to rabies:

  • Do not feed wild animals. This brings them closer to your family and reduces their natural fear of humans.
  • If you encounter a skunk, raccoon or other carnivore during daytime hours, leave it alone. If the animal appears sick or aggressive, call your local animal control agency or the Division of Wildlife.
  • Teach children to stay away from wild or dead animals.
  • Do not allow pets to roam freely, as this increases the chance they may be exposed without your knowledge.

·        Keep your pets’ rabies vaccinations current, and maintain vaccination records. If you can’t afford to vaccinate your pets for rabies through your local veterinarian, check with local animal shelters or humane societies for reduced vaccination fees. Rabies vaccination performed by owners will not be recognized by local public health or animal control agencies for licensing or in the event of exposure to a rabid animal.

  • Discuss rabies vaccination of your livestock with your veterinarian. Vaccination should be considered for horses and other equines, breeding livestock, dairy cattle or other high-value livestock, especially in areas of the state where skunks have been diagnosed with rabies.
  • Contact your veterinarian if your dog or cat is bitten or scratched by a wild animal, such as a skunk, bat, fox or raccoon, or comes home smelling like a skunk.
  • If a family member or pet has been bitten or scratched by a wild mammal, contact your local public health agency and consult with a physician without delay.

If you have questions about rabies or whom to call in your area for response to a wild or suspect animal, please call the Montezuma County Health Department at 970-565-3056. If you are a resident who lives outside of Montezuma County, call COHELP at 1-877-462-2911 for more information.

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