See where animals who have tested positive for rabies have been found in Larimer County.
Note: Due to budget reductions, as of January 1, 2013, the Larimer Humane Society is no longer able to pick up dead animals in unincorporated Larimer County (outside of city/town limits). This includes picking up animals in public areas, such as public roads and parks, nor dead animals on private property. Information on dead animal pick-up.
In early Spring 2012, a skunk found close to the foothills in Fort Collins tested positive for rabies. This was the first time the skunk type of rabies (terrestrial) had been confirmed in a populated area of Larimer County. Since then, the number of rabid skunks and other animals in Larimer County has risen steadily and continues to rise. Live rabid skunks have now been found in Larimer County in every season and they are expected to continue to pose a rabies risk year-round.
Between May 2012 and December 31, 2012, a total of 52 animals tested positive for rabies in Larimer County including bats, skunks, raccoons, and bison. 38 of the total were skunks. The numbers continue to rise into 2013, and the species infected now include raccoons and a fox. Two horses have died of rabies after encounters with rabid skunks in an adjacent county, close to the Larimer County line. Bats are also carriers of rabies in Larimer County, but are usually not present in significant numbers in the winter and early spring.
See the rabies maps showing where rabies-positive animals have been found within Larimer County. If you see a skunk, bat, or any wild animal acting abnormally or sick, call Humane Society Animal Control at 970-226-3647, #7.
See a video on skunk rabies:
Every year in Larimer County, the Health Department receives calls from people who feel they have been exposed to or bitten by an animal that could have rabies. Of specific concern are human interactions with wild animals such as bats or skunks that could be carrying rabies. Most bats and/or skunks do not carry rabies, but it is important to follow some basic guidelines when interacting with any wild animal.
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, 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.
When people get "rabies shots," does this mean they have rabies?
No. Each summer a small number of Larimer County residents receive rabies post-exposure vaccine ("rabies shots") because it's very likely that they were exposed to the saliva of a rabid bat or other animal with rabies. Receiving the vaccine does not mean the person has rabies. The shots prevent the onset of rabies in a person who has likely been exposed to the virus.
Who should get rabies vaccine?
I've heard that the rabies shots are given in the stomach and that there are 21 shots in all. Is that true?
No. Treatment to prevent rabies is considerably easier and less painful than it was before 1967. Untreated rabies in humans in almost universally fatal. Treatment should start within 7 days of exposure whenever possible, the sooner the better.
Modern treatment for rabies takes 4 visits, unless the person has been vaccinated previously for rabies.
Where do I go for a rabies vaccine?
If you require rabies vaccination after exposure to a rabid animal, call your physician's office or a local emergency room. The health department does not administer rabies vaccine for post-exposure treatment.
How long will it take to develop rabies after getting bit?
If vaccine has not been given, there can be up to a year between the time of the exposure and the time symptoms begin, but the time may be considerably less. By the time symptoms appear, it's too late for the vaccine to be effective.
Do I need to vaccinate my indoor pets for rabies if they never go outside?
Yes! All household pets should be kept up to date on their rabies vaccinations. Indoor pets can be bitten by a rabid bat that is in the house or they might escape outside where they could come in contact with a skunk or other rabid animal. Cats in particular like to play with or hunt animals on the ground. A rabid bat on the ground either indoor or outdoors could make an easy catch for a cat. If your pet is not up-to-date on rabies vaccination, they could face an expensive six-month quarantine or being humanely put to death.
Keep dogs leashed when hiking and walking in your neighborhood. Loose dogs may tangle with a rabid skunk or other sick wildlife without the owner being aware it has happened.
Rabies can infect dogs, cats, foxes, raccoons, skunks and other mammals after being bitten by an animal with rabies. Any infected animal can transmit the infection to humans by a bite.
Why are bats and skunks tested for rabies?
If a bat or skunk that has bitten or come in contact with a human tests positive for rabies, the exposed person can begin the vaccination series right away. If the test is negative (no rabies), the exposed person or animal will not need the vaccinations. If it is a household pet that is up to date on its rabies vaccine, it should receive a rabies booster. The pet's veterinarian should be contacted as soon as possible after the suspected or confirmed contact.
Please note: Due to budget reductions, as of January 1, 2013 the Larimer Humane Society will no longer be able to pick up dead animals in unincorporated Larimer County (outside of city/town limits). This includes picking up animals in public areas, such as public roads and parks, nor dead animals on private property.