State warns of rabies in skunks

RBC I Although 2014 numbers won’t be complete until year’s end, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data show the number of confirmed animal rabies cases has declined from an average of 187 cases in 2012 and 2013 to 107 cases thus far in 2014.

These numbers reflect only those animals that have been tested because of witnessed abnormal behaviors or encounters with people, pets or livestock. Many more infected animals likely have not been tested.
“Even though the actual number confirmed positive is fewer than previous years, it does not mean rabies has gone away,” said Dr. Jennifer House, public health veterinarian at the department. “Rabies still is present in our wildlife populations and still putting humans and domestic pets at risk.”
Rabies is a viral disease that affects mammals. Most Colorado rabies cases are found in skunks and bats. Rabies also affects other wildlife, domestic animals and livestock, increasing the public health impact and the risk of human infection.
“It’s important to have all dogs and cats vaccinated to be protected from rabies,” Dr. House said. “The vaccine can prevent companion animals from getting rabies from wildlife and possibly exposing someone in your home. Unfortunately, two domestic cats came down with rabies this year. An unvaccinated pet could expose your whole family.”
Since it is hard to know if pastured animals have been exposed to rabid animals, Dr. House recommends horses, cattle and other livestock be vaccinated annually with an approved large animal rabies vaccine by a veterinarian.
Animals with rabies often behave strangely. Rabid wildlife may come out in the daytime when they normally come out only at night. They also may approach or attack people, pets or livestock instead of avoiding them.
Rabid animals may have trouble walking, flying, eating and drinking because the virus affects the nervous system. The only way to tell for sure if an animal has rabies is to test the animal for the virus.
Surveillance for rabies continues among animals exhibiting abnormal behaviors and/or having encounters with people, pets or livestock. Owners should remain alert and report contact or strange behavior in animals to the state or local health department.
Skunks do not hibernate through the winter, so the possibility of exposure exists even as temperatures plummet.