A coalition of human and animal health agencies are warning of an increase in rabies along the Front Range of Colorado, taking the new step of urging people to have their horses vaccinated against rabies, as well as reminding pet owners to be sure that their dog and cat rabies vaccinations are up-to-date. They also suggest that people discuss vaccination of their other livestock with their veterinarian.
A horse in El Paso County was confirmed to have rabies in September of 2009 – the first known horse case in Colorado in at least 25 years – and Colorado recently had a second confirmed case.
On April 9, 2010, a horse that died in eastern Arapahoe County was confirmed to have rabies. So far this year, the majority of the human exposure to rabies has been from horses, not wild animals.
The American Horse Council Foundation estimates that there are 256,000 horses in Colorado, with a total economic impact of $1.6 billion a year. Over 100,000 Coloradans are involved in the horse industry, including horse owners, employees and volunteers.
“Rabies is circulating in skunks in rural areas east of I-25, and it is moving closer to more densely populated areas of metro Denver,” states Richard L. Vogt, MD, Executive Director of Tri-County Health Department. “Colorado’s last human death from rabies was in 1931, and we want to keep it that way.”
A total of 41 skunks have tested positive for rabies so far in Colorado this year. Bats have historically been the main carriers of rabies in Colorado, but there have been no confirmed reports of rabid bats this year. And unlike bats―which have only sporadic contact with humans and animals―skunks often live near homes and barns, increasing the chances of contact with dogs, cats, horses and farm animals. Domestic animals can then become infected, placing humans at even greater risk for exposure.
Having dogs, cats, horses, and livestock vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian is the simplest and most effective way to protect both animals and humans from rabies.
“The Colorado Department of Agriculture would like to stress two very important points,” said State Veterinarian, Dr. Keith Roehr. “First, that animal owners need to be aware that the incidence of rabies is increasing and the virus is transferring from one species to another, so owners should monitor their animals for symptoms; and second, that local veterinarians are a valuable resource to help producers decide the best course of action to protect their livestock and pets from rabies.”
Rabies is caused by a virus that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals, and is nearly always fatal. The virus is shed in the saliva of infected animals, and people or animals can get rabies from the bite or contact with saliva of any rabid animal―whether that is a wild animal or an infected pet, horse or farm animal. Immediate treatment is required after exposure to an infected animal’s saliva.
In addition to rabies vaccinations for pets and livestock, there are additional precautions to prevent possible exposure to rabies:
- Do not feed, touch, or handle wild animals.
- Teach children to leave wildlife alone.
- Do not leave pet food or livestock feed in areas accessible to wildlife.
- Maintain control of your pets by keeping cats indoors and keeping dogs under direct supervision.
- Spay or neuter your pets to reduce the number of unwanted or stray animals in your community.
- Call your local animal control office to remove stray animals from your neighborhood.
- Call the Colorado Division of Wildlife office if you have problems with wild animals.
If you are concerned that you or one of your animals might have been exposed to rabies, then seek medical or veterinary attention immediately and contact your local health department.
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The agencies currently participating in this statewide rabies vaccination campaign include:
Colorado Department of Agriculture
Colorado Veterinary Medical Association
Colorado Federation of Animal Welfare Agencies
Colorado Association of Animal Control Officers
Westernaires Precision Horse Drill Team
Colorado Horse Council
Colorado Horse Development Authority
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and all local health departments along the Front Range, including Boulder, Denver, Elbert, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, Tri-County (Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas) and Weld Counties