Larimer County Department of Health: Protect yourself from exposure to rabies

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The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment reminds people to take common sense precautions against exposure to animals with rabies.

“We’re having longer days, warmer weather and an increase in outdoor activities,” said Rich Grossmann, environmental health specialist with the Health Department. “The risk of coming in contact with a rabid animal is increased as summer approaches.”

According to Grossmann, a bat recently found and tested in west Fort Collins is the only animal confirmed to have rabies in Larimer County so far this year. “This time of year bats begin to emerge from hibernation or begin their northern migrations,” he said. “During this seasonal movement, bats may roost in temporary sites increasing the likelihood of human or pet contact.”

Skunks too are emerging after staying close to their dens during the winter. As they search for food for and mates, they may be seen in city neighborhoods and in pastures and barns of rural parts of Larimer County.

Though the majority of them are healthy, skunks and bats are the main carriers of rabies in Colorado. Prior to 2012, bats were the main species in this area that carried rabies. But in 2012, after gradually spreading west for five years from eastern Colorado, rabid skunks were found for the first time in cities in Larimer County. In 2012 and 2013 skunks surpassed bats as the main carrier of rabies in Larimer County, and skunk rabies is now a permanent presence in our county.

Since 2012, bats, skunks, raccoons, bison, horses, a cat, foxes and cattle have tested positive for rabies along the Front Range. Also since 2012, about 25 percent of all wild animals that tested positive for rabies in Colorado were found in Larimer County. But merely watching numbers and percentages can be misleading.

“The numbers represent only those animals that have been tested because of encounters with people, pets, or livestock,” Grossmann said. “Certainly there are many more animals with rabies out there but they haven’t been tested, so they are not counted.”

Grossmann added that it’s important to know the signs of a rabid animal and to avoid any exposure that could pass rabies on to you, your family or your pets. He stressed that the most important thing you can do to prevent rabies is to have your pets vaccinated against rabies and to keep their shots up-to-date. He also stresses the importance of keeping your pets’ shot records in case there is a question of whether or not your animal needs to be quarantined after exposure to a rabid animal.

Other preventive steps to prevent exposure to rabies include:
• Avoid animals displaying aggressive or other behavior unnatural for its breed
• Avoid touching wild animals at all times, even if they seem “tame”
• Do not try to care for a wild animal that seems ill
• Teach children NEVER to touch a wild animal and to report finding a dead or sick animal to an adult immediately.
• Keep bats from entering your home through damaged screens, open windows and small holes near doors or under gutters.
• Keep your pets under supervision, obey leash postings and prevent them from roaming and coming in contact with wild animals that might be rabid.
• Report animals that look sick or behave in unusual ways to the Larimer Humane Society Animal Control program at 970-226-3647, #7 . Skunks and bats are active at night, so if you see one during the daytime, it may be ill.
• If you suspect your pets or livestock have been in contact with a rabid animal or if they are showing signs of illness or unusual or aggressive behavior, contact your veterinarian immediately.
• If you have been bitten or exposed to the saliva of an animal that might be carrying rabies, call the Health Department at 498-6775 for advice or seek medical care as soon as possible. The Health Department does not administer rabies post-exposure treatment; only emergency rooms can provide the initial treatment for a rabies exposure, should it be needed.
• Livestock owners should check with their veterinarian about rabies vaccinations for their horses, cattle, and other livestock.

Though rabies is fatal if left untreated, there is a human vaccination series for rabies that is successful in halting the virus if started as soon as possible after a rabies exposure. Dogs and cats that are up-to-date on their rabies shots should get a booster after exposure. Those that have never been vaccinated or are not up-to-date will face lengthy and expensive quarantine or euthanasia.

For more information on rabies and steps to reduce the risk of exposure, or to see maps showing locations where rabid animals have been found in Larimer County in 2014, 2013 and 2012, see


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