by Sarah Evans –
Animals are an important part of our lives. Pet animals, such as dogs and cats provide companionship, comfort, and can help us lead healthier lives. They are cherished members of the family and are often part of a loving household. Horses, cattle and other livestock contribute significantly to the economy in Weld County. Wildlife is an integral part of our ecosystem. Wild animals help maintain a balanced ecosystem helping control rodent and insect populations.
Something that may be overlooked with regard to our relationship with animals is the deadly virus that pets, livestock and wild animals can transmit to humans: rabies. Rabies is a very serious threat to human and animal health. If untreated, rabies is almost always fatal. In fact, every year in the U.S., measures are taken to prevent approximately 40,000 potential exposures to rabies.
While humans generally do not get rabies from another human, animals can transmit the virus to people. Wild animals that typically carry the virus, such as skunks, raccoons, bats, and foxes, can spread rabies to humans through a bite or scratch. In the U.S., more than 90% of all rabies cases occur in wild animals.
Wild animals can also transmit rabies to pets. Because pets are so close to humans, a pet with rabies can then bite or scratch a person and cause them to get rabies. Even though rabies is most commonly found in wild animals, most human cases of rabies are caused by exposure to domestic animals, such as dogs and cats.
For many years, bats were the only animal in Weld County to test positive for rabies. Bats are of particular concern because they can be found in many places where people live and gather for outdoor activities, including campgrounds. Unlike other wild animals, the bite of a bat might not always be felt or leave a mark due to their small teeth. Bats can also enter homes by flying in through a window, attic vent or crawling through any opening ¼ inch or larger.
In January 2012, Weld County documented the first rabies positive skunk in at least the last 25 years. To date, ten skunks and a fox have tested positive. This is an extension of skunk rabies that has been circulating on the Eastern Plains of Colorado since 2008. Skunks are more efficient at transmitting rabies than bats.
Rabies has an undeniable presence in every community. No matter where we live, work, or play, this deadly virus can threaten the lives of those we hold dearest to our hearts. Parents, pet owners, and all members of the community must take action to help prevent rabies from burdening our families.
It is up to you to help control the spread of rabies. Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe:
- Get your dog, cat, ferret, and/or livestock immunized against rabies. Call your veterinarian and make sure your animal’s shots are up to date.
- Spay or neuter your pet. This can help control the number of stray animals that come in contact with wildlife.
- Avoid contact with wildlife. Do not go near wild animals or unfamiliar animals and teach children to avoid them too. If you see an animal acting strangely, call animal control.
- Do not touch or pickup dead animals. Teach children to tell an adult if they see a dead animal. Call animal control if you come across a dead animal.
- “Bat-proof” your home to help keep bats out of your house or dwelling. For instructions on bat-proofing, visit http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats.html.
- If you are bitten by a wild or strange animal, wash the wound with soap and water. Seek medical care immediately. Call the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment at (970) 304-6415 to see if further treatment might be necessary.
To learn more, visit www.weldhealth.org http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/dc/zoonosis/rabies/index.html www.cdc.gov/rabies or call 1-800-CDC-INFO. You can also get more information from your veterinarian’s office.
Sarah Evans is an environmental health manger with the Weld County Department of Health and Human Safety