It’s already been an active year for rabies cases in El Paso County, and the Health Department is warning everyone about unknown or wild animals.
A total of 10 skunks have tested positive for rabies in El Paso County this year, with four of those skunks found close to densely populated urban areas near downtown Colorado Springs and Palmer Park. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, rabies is now found routinely along the Front Range.
El Paso County Public Health is urging residents to protect themselves by never touching or feeding wild or stray animals, and keeping pets up to date on rabies vaccinations. If bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, rabies is usually fatal in humans once symptoms appear.
There are no known human exposures. The skunks were found in yards of residential homes. Residents in the area should not touch feral or unknown animals, and remind children not to play with unknown or wild animals.
“Rabies is making an early appearance in El Paso County for the 2018 season,” said Shannon Rowe, El Paso County Public Health Epidemiologist. “The rapid spread of rabies in mammals, such as skunks, into urban areas puts pets and people at risk, so it is important that all domestic animals are up to date on their rabies vaccines through a licensed veterinarian.”
Residents who see skunks in their neighborhood during the day, that seem sick, lethargic or overly aggressive, should avoid coming into contact with them. If a dead skunk is found in your yard or near your home, you can take steps to safely dispose of it:
• Wearing thick gloves, use a shovel to remove the animal and place it in a thick trash bag. Take care to cover your skin and do not come in direct contact with the animal.
• Tie a knot in the trash bag and place into a second bag, also tied securely.
• Dispose of the bag in an outdoor trash container.
Rabies is a viral disease that infects the brain and other parts of the central nervous system, causing brain swelling and damage, and ultimately, death. Rabies is spread primarily through the bite of rabid animals, resulting in the spread of the disease through their infected saliva. Rabies also can be spread when saliva from an infected animal gets into open wounds, cuts or enters through membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Preventive vaccination is available for people known or suspected to have been bitten by a rabid animal. It is important for people bitten or scratched by an unfamiliar animal to contact their doctor immediately.
Take these precautions to prevent rabies:
• Vaccinate your pets against rabies by using a licensed veterinarian. Rabies shots need to be boosted, so check your pet’s records or talk to your veterinarian.
• When walking or hiking with your dog, protect them and wildlife by keeping your dog on a leash.
• Keep cats and other pets inside at night to reduce the risk of exposure to other domestic animals and wildlife. Keep dogs within your sight (in a fenced yard, or on leash) during the day while outside.
• Contact your veterinarian promptly if you believe your pet has been exposed to a wild animal.
• Do not touch or feed wild animals. Wild animals like skunks and foxes adapt to residential environments if food is available – please don’t leave pet food outdoors.
• If people or pets are bitten or scratched by an aggressive wild or unknown animal, call your doctor and report to El Paso County Public Health at https://www.elpasocountyhealth.org/report-an-animal-bite.
• If you encounter a lost or stray dog or cat, contact the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region for options at (719) 473-1741.
How to recognize sick wildlife:
• Healthy wild animals are normally afraid of humans.
• Sick animals often do not run away when spotted by people.
• Wildlife suffering from rabies will often act aggressively and violently approach people or pets.
• However, sometimes rabid animals are overly quiet and passive and want to hide. If they are hiding, leave them alone. Rabid wildlife might also stumble or have trouble walking.
Reports of Confirmed Rabies in El Paso County, Colorado (2010-2018)
2018: 10 skunks
2017: 28 (7 bats, 21 skunks)
2016: 3 (bats)
2015: 6 (5 bats, 1 cat)
2014: 10 (bats)
2013: 8 (4 bats, 2 foxes, 2 skunks)
2012: 3 (bats)
2011: 15 (5 bats, 1 fox, 9 skunks)
2010: 17 (8 bats, 4 foxes, 5 skunks)
For more information go to www.elpasocountyhealth.org