We are on high alert for rabies in Larimer County. Follow these steps to protect your pets and your family.
Top Ten Tips for Staying Safe
- Vaccinate your pets, horses and livestock
- Keep cats indoors
- Keep your dogs on a leash when outside
- Feed pets indoors
- Stay away from wildlife (dead or alive)
- Animal-proof your trash
- Prevent wild animals from getting into your house
- Teach children never to touch wild animals
- Report stray animals and animals acting sick or strange to (970) 226-3647 ext. 7
- License all pets
What is rabies?
Rabies is an infectious disease of warm-blooded mammals. It is carried by a virus that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). If not treated, it results in paralysis and eventually death. It may be transmitted to animals or humans by a bite or other exposure to the saliva of an infected animal.
A variety of animals can get rabies. Why the concern about skunks and bats?
Before 2007, the main source of rabies in Colorado was bats. Since 2007, however, skunk rabies has spread rapidly from eastern Colorado and along the Front Range so that skunks are now considered the main animal source for rabies in Colorado. In May, 2012, a rabid skunk was found in the foothills near Fort Collins. Since that time, the number of rabid skunks continues to rise. Once skunk rabies is established in an area, it cannot be eradicated, and can sometimes spread infections to other common wild animals, such as foxes, coyotes, raccoons, mountain lions, bobcats as well as to horses, livestock, dogs and cats.
In Colorado, rabies is endemic in bats. This means that the virus is constantly present in a small portion of the bat population.Other mammals can get rabies from an infected skunk or bat or another animal that has been bitten by one with rabies. Pets can be protected from getting this disease through vaccination. The fatality rate for untreated rabies is 100% meaning that all unvaccinated animals who contract rabies will die of the disease.
Why do we hear about bats, skunks and rabies every summer?
From July through early fall the numbers of bats in Larimer County increase as several bat species migrate to our area. Some bats hibernate here and stay year-round. Late spring is also when baby skunks usually begin to appear, hunting with their mothers. Since more skunks are active at this time, encounters with humans and pets are more likely, though skunks with rabies are more frequently wandering about throughout the fall and winter and not just spring and summer.
When are bats and skunks active?
Summer evenings are prime time for bat activity as they catch insects and feed on certain flowers. If a bat is out in the daytime, acting sluggish, or crawling on the ground, chances are it is sick. Skunks search for food from dusk to dawn, feeding on mice, eggs, carrion, insects, grubs, and berries. At sunrise, skunks usually retire to their dens. If a skunk is out in the daytime, acting frenetic or abnormally sluggish, walking in circles or unable to keep its balance, chances are it is sick.
Should I be afraid of bats and skunks?
No. Both are a beneficial part of our ecosystem and normally will not harm you if left alone. However, it's important to be cautious and avoid human/bat/skunk encounters especially if the animals are out in the daytime, acting odd for their species, or moving or flying erratically.
Why do I need to be cautious around animals in the wild?
Most healthy wild animals don't want to be touched by humans! They might bite in response. A bite from animal with rabies can transmit it to you or your unvaccinated pet. Untreated rabies is a serious, deadly disease in animals and humans.
Can rabies be cured?
No. There is an effective treatment for humans that needs to be administered soon after being bitten (post-exposure) to prevent rabies. There is no post-exposure treatment for animals. Without that post-exposure treatment, rabies is usually fatal in humans. It is always fatal in unvaccinated animals.
Do all bats and skunks carry rabies?
No, most bats and skunks do not carry rabies and pose little health risk. In Larimer County, it is estimated that only 1 % of bats might be infected with rabies. When you have a large population of bats, as we do during migration season, it's expected that every year a small number of them will have rabies. Likewise, it can be expected that a relatively small number of skunks in Larimer County have rabies at any one time.
If only a small number of bats and skunks have rabies, why are humans and household pets also at risk of getting it?
Though the number of bats and skunks with rabies is small, exposure to sick animals is more likely to happen than close exposure to healthy ones. It is more likely you will be exposed to a sick bat or skunk since they are often moving slowly, and in places that they normally would avoid, where humans and other animals are present. It is possible that a person or a family pet could come in close contact with an infected animal (through a bite, a scratch or, with family pets, by playing with the sick animal). The infected animal could pass rabies virus to someone who handles it, is bitten or scratched by it, or has other contact with the animal's saliva.
Is rabies carried in skunk spray?
No. The rabies virus in only transmitted through a bite contaminated by an infected animal's saliva. However, if your pet gets sprayed they may have gotten close enough to a sick skunk to have been bitten. Check a pet that has been sprayed for any sign of a bite.
I've never seen a skunk in Larimer County. Are there really enough of them to make this dangerous?
Healthy skunks are mostly nocturnal and are not seen by most humans during the day. It is very likely you have smelled skunks in our neighborhoods and foothills. Healthy skunks avoid interactions with humans and other animals, so it is unlikely that you would regularly see them. But a skunk with rabies loses that caution and can tangle with another wild or domestic animal and bite it, passing on the infection.
A rabid skunk can pass on rabies to animals we see frequently in Larimer County such as foxes, coyotes, or raccoons. It can bite and infect livestock. It is evident that skunk rabies is here, whether you see skunks or not. View a map of rabies positive animals here.
Larimer County Department of Health and Environment
For more information, visit http://www.larimer.org/health/