Commentary by Capt. Andrew Sahol
First year graduate veterinary education intern, Public Health Activity
What is rabies?
Rabies is a preventable viral disease that, in the U.S., is found most often in wild mammals such as skunks, bats, foxes and raccoons. Rabies can be transmitted to humans and other animals, generally from the saliva of the bites from infected wild animals. Rabies virus infects the central nervous system. Clinical signs look similar to the cold or flu and if left untreated can lead to more severe signs such as paralysis, excitation, hallucination, agitation, increase in salivation, difficulty swallowing and fear of water. Death is the ultimate end state of this disease, usually occurring within 10 days from the start of clinical signs.
Rabies is fatal. There are a few options for treatment if caught early enough post-exposure; however, the only option for our pets is to have built up immunity through a regular vaccination schedule prior to exposure. Rabies occurs more every year in El Paso County. In 2014, the county reported 10 cases of rabies and all were within bats. Last year alone there were 66 cases and 59 have been within skunks. Two of the confirmed skunk cases were on Fort Carson.
The best prevention is to avoid wildlife and minimize attracting wild animals. This means do not feed, touch or otherwise interact with wildlife. Lock up garbage kept outside and don’t feed pets outside. Don’t leave pets or children unattended. Pets are recommended to have a regular vaccination schedule, this is mandatory to live in on-post housing. The Fort Carson Veterinary Center is happy to see your pets. Appointments are available from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday by calling 719-526-3803 or 719-526-4520.
Be on watch for any suspicious animals. Nocturnal animals such as skunks should not be out wandering freely during the day. Animals may appear more aggressive, stagger or tremble and may seem weak. Bats may be on the ground because they are unable to fly. Sometimes rabid animals may not show any signs other than sudden death. If you see a wild animal, or even what appears to be a loose pet acting abnormal or find one deceased, do not try to handle the animal. On post, the best contact to take care of these animals is Directorate of Emergency Services dispatch at 719-526-2333. They will forward the information to the appropriate party. If you are off post, contact the El Paso County Health Department at 719-578-3199.
What to do if a bite occurs?
If your pet has been bitten by a wild animal, bring them to a veterinarian for evaluation and to determine the best course of action for follow up. If possible, have the appropriate service collect the infected animal so it can be submitted for testing. If your pet bites another animal or a person, especially on post, you are required to bring in your animal so that we can ensure it is not showing any signs of rabies. If a person is bitten, immediately seek medical care and again, have the appropriate authority catch the animal for testing. For bats specifically, if you ever find yourself in a room with one and were sleeping, you should seek care. Bat teeth are so tiny you may not see or even feel a bite.
The Colorado Health Department website is a great reference for more information data, facts specific to rabies and other important diseases: https://www.colorado.gov/cdphe.