May 16, 2022
As the weather gets warmer, and we’re all spending more time outdoors, the chances of people and pets encountering a wild animal increase and with that the concern for rabies increases as well. Although the chance of contracting rabies in the United States is relatively low due to several factors such as vaccination and treatment programs for people or pets who have been exposed, there is still the risk of encountering a rabid animal.
What is rabies?
Rabies is a deadly virus that causes brain and spinal cord inflammation in humans and other mammals. It is spread through contact with saliva by a bite or scratch with an animal carrying the disease. Without treatment, it is almost always fatal in humans and animals if the appropriate treatment is not administered promptly and properly.
What animals can carry and spread rabies?
Although domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, are able to contract the virus and can transfer it to humans, the majority of U.S. cases come from wild animals such as bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks. In Colorado, rabies is primarily found in bats and skunks.
If you find a bat in your home and are unaware how long it has been in your home, do not release, discard, or kill the bat. Contact Public Health at 719-578-3220 as soon as possible to discuss any possible exposures to yourself or your pets.
What to do if you suspect that you or your pet were exposed to rabies?
If you are concerned you or your pet were exposed to a wild animal or to the rabies virus, immediately wash the wound area with soapy water or povidone iodine for 15 minutes, then seek medical treatment and contact Public Health.
Preventive vaccination is available for people known or suspected to have been bitten by a rabid animal, but it is important for people who have been bitten or scratched by an unfamiliar animal to contact their doctor immediately.
What are the symptoms and severity of rabies?
The incubation period for rabies ranges from weeks to months, even up to one year. Initial symptoms include a fever with pain, tingling, prickling, muscle weakness and/or burning sensation at the wound site. Once the rabies virus reaches the brain, the disease is fatal. Rabies is a preventable disease, which is why it is important to contact Public Health and your health care provider if you are concerned about an exposure.
What can you do to keep yourself and your pets safe?
- Keep pets up-to-date on vaccinations and follow the recommended schedule for booster vaccines.
- Avoid contact with any wild animal, especially if it shows rabid-like symptoms, which may include aggressive behavior, confusion, walking around in a circle, or lethargy.
- Never feed wild animals, and do not leave exposed pet food or garbage outdoors.
- Teach children to NEVER handle unfamiliar animals — even if they appear friendly.
- Supervise your pets when outdoors, and leash dogs when walking or hiking.
- Seal houses to prevent bats and other animals from nesting, and if already present, use a professional animal removal service.
- If you, a family member, or pet is bitten or scratched by a wild or unknown animal, call your doctor and report to El Paso County Public Health at 719-578-3220 or 719-235-2278 after hours.