Seasonal bat activity increases threat of rabies

Garfield County health department urges residents to take precautions

PRESS RELEASE
September 9, 2019

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – Seasonal bat activity is prompting Garfield County Public Health to issue warnings about rabies.

Rabies is a fatal, but preventable viral disease. It can spread to people and pets if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal. Statewide, 120 animals – including bats, skunks, raccoons, dogs, cats, and a cow – have tested positive for the disease this year. In Western Colorado, the most common source of rabies is from bats.

“We want to encourage people not to touch wildlife,” said Danielle Dudley, a nurse with Garfield County Public Health. “In our region, contact with infected bats is the primary source of rabies. If someone suspects they have been bitten and can safely and properly contain the animal, we can test it for rabies.”

If you are scratched or bitten by an animal, wash the wound immediately with soap and water. In many cases, bat bites may not be visible. If you are unsure if you have been bitten, talk to your health care provider about whether you need post-exposure prophylaxis. Rabies in people is 100 percent preventable if you receive prompt medical care.

Outside of the United States, dogs are the leading carrier of rabies, due to low immunization rates in pets.

“When we talk to people traveling to other countries, we discuss the potential risk of rabies from dog bites,” Dudley said. “In the United States, it is highly recommended that all dogs, cats, and ferrets stay up-to-date on their rabies vaccination, even when they are considered indoor pets.”

To avoid rabies:

  • Don’t touch or feed wild or stray animals, and never leave pet food outdoors. If you see a sick or orphaned animal, do not touch it; instead contact the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control at 970-945-0453, or Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) at 970- 947-2920.
  • For questions related to potential rabies exposure or rabies testing, please contact Garfield County Public Health in Rifle at 970-625-5200, or Glenwood Springs at 970- 945-6614.
  • Vaccinate your pets. Use a licensed veterinarian, and make sure you keep up with pets’ booster shots. Unvaccinated pets exposed to rabid wildlife must be placed in quarantine for up to 120 days or be euthanized. This can be avoided if the animal has been vaccinated.
  • Keep cats and other pets inside at night. Keep dogs within your sight (in a fenced yard or on leash) during the day while outside.
  • Vaccinate pastured animals annually. Have a licensed veterinarian administer an approved large-animal rabies vaccine.
  • Bat-proof your home. Information is available at cdc.gov/rabies/bats/management.

Recognizing sick wildlife:

  • Many healthy wild animals are normally afraid of humans; sick animals often do not run away when spotted by people.
  • Wildlife with rabies may act aggressively, or will approach people or pets, and may act in a violent manner.
  • Some rabid animals are overly quiet and passive, and want to hide. Don’t bother them.
  • Rabid wildlife might have trouble walking, flying, eating, or drinking.

For more rabies information, contact Garfield County Public Health at 970-625-5200 or 970-945- 6614.

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