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News Release

Rabies confirmed in skunk in west Fort Collins area

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Department: Health & Environment
Release Date: May 4, 2012

Contact Information:

Jane Viste
498-6750
jviste@larimer.org

The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment announced today that a skunk found close to the foothills west of Fort Collins tested positive for rabies. The skunk was tested both locally and by the CDC in Atlanta and confirmed to have the skunk variant of rabies, the first time this type of rabies has been confirmed in a populated area of Larimer County.  

The skunk was found in the area of LaPorte Avenue, about a mile west of Overland Trail, close to the foothills, in an enclosed area that pets and pedestrians would not be able to access. The closest residences are about a mile away. The skunk appeared to have been mauled by a large animal, possibly a coyote, bobcat, or mountain lion, which might have become infected in the attack. The Foothills Trail on the east ridge overlooking Horsetooth Reservoir is about a half mile west of this area. Hikers in the foothills and natural areas are cautioned to keep their distance from all skunks and wild predators, and ALWAYS keep their dogs on leashes.
 
Unvaccinated dogs and cats that come into contact with a rabid animal will either need to be euthanized or vaccinated and quarantined at a veterinary facility for 90 days, followed by another 90 days of home quarantine, which can be very expensive. Pets who behind in their vaccinations must be vaccinated and quarantined at home for 90 days. Fully vaccinated pets need a booster and 45 days of observation at home. There is no cure for rabies.
 
To lower your or your pets’ chances of exposure to rabies, the Health Department recommends the following:
·         Vaccinate dogs, cats, and ferrets as recommended by your veterinarian; make sure they are up-to-date on their shots. Animals too young to be vaccinated should be kept indoors. Talk to your large animal vet about vaccinating horses and livestock.
·         Leash your pets when they accompany you on a walk in your neighborhood or in parks, the foothills, or open spaces. Pets who roam freely have an increased chance of an encounter with a wild animal and could be exposed to rabies without your knowledge.
·         Feed your pets indoors, and bring your pets inside at night. Do not leave pet food outdoors or leave livestock feed containers open in sheds or barns.
·         Do not feed, touch or handle wild animals and be cautious of stray dogs and cats
·         Teach children not to touch either live or dead wildlife (including bats) and to tell you when they have been bitten or scratched by a pet.
·         Call the Larimer Humane Emergency Animal Control line at 970-226-3647, Ext. 7, if you see a potentially rabid animal or have a pet that may have been exposed. Also contact your veterinarian without delay if you suspect direct contact between your pet or livestock and a potentially rabid animal.
·         Call your doctor or visit an emergency room immediately if you are bitten or scratched by an animal that seems sick or threatening. 
Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. The virus is transmitted through contact with the saliva of infected animals. Vaccination is available to prevent the development of rabies, but only if given soon after exposure. There is no cure for rabies, and it is almost always fatal in both humans and animals. 
 
Signs that an animal might have rabies include: both aggressive behavior or unexpectedly tame behavior in a wild animal; difficulty walking and unstable movements; walking in circles; unusual vocal noises. A skunk that is moving about during the day should be suspected of being sick.
 
Before 2007, the main reservoir for 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 reservoir for rabies in Colorado. The only rabid skunk previously found in Larimer County was along the Wyoming border, in a very rural area, in late 2010. 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. 
The skunk variant of rabies is a form of “terrestrial rabies” since skunks live and travel on the ground, unlike bats. The risk of rabies exposure to wildlife, livestock, pets and humans increases with the presence of terrestrial rabies compared to when rabies occurs primarily in bats. The risk of rabies is also increased when pets and domestic animals and livestock are not properly vaccinated. Domestic animals and pets include cats, dogs, horses and livestock. Only mammals are susceptible to rabies, and small rodents and rabbits are rarely found to be infected.
 
Once skunk rabies is established in an area, more cases can be expected. In the last six weeks in Pueblo, Colorado, for example, 10 rabid skunks and 1 rabid fox have been confirmed. See their interesting Pueblo Rabies Watch blog at http://pueblorabieswatch.blogspot.com/.
 
For more information on skunk rabies:
http://tiny.cc/skunkrabiesbrochure
http://tiny.cc/skunkrabiesvideo
http://larimer.org/health;
http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/