Garfield County issues rabies alert as seasonal bat activity increases
A recent increase in bat activity has prompted Garfield County Public Health officials to issue a rabies advisory should people come in contact with the animals.
There have not been any human cases of rabies in the county or elsewhere in Colorado this year, but the county did have one bat test positive for rabies, according to Carrie Godes, public health specialist for the county.
“Several individuals have received post-exposure treatment, because the bat that they were exposed to was not caught or was untestable,” she said. “If we cannot confirm whether an animal has rabies, we always treat the individual.”
During the warmer months, bats can fly into homes if doors or windows are left open, especially at night, increasing the risk of human contact with the animals.
In the winter, bats will typically hibernate in caves, but can sometimes find refuge in attics.
“We want to encourage people not to touch wildlife,” Danielle Dudley, a nurse with Garfield County Public Health, said in a recent press release issued by the county.
“In our region, contact with infected bats is the primary source of rabies,” she said. “If someone suspects they have been bitten and can safely and properly contain the animal, we can test it for rabies.”
The release goes on to explain that 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.
Public health officials advise that if a person is scratched or bitten by an animal, to wash the wound immediately with soap and water.
“In many cases, bat bites may not be visible,” according to the release. “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 treated promptly, according to the release.
Outside the United States, dogs are the most common source of rabies.
“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 don’t 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, 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 additional rabies information, contact Garfield County Public Health at 970-625-5200 or 970-945-6614.
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