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Rabid Black Forest horse euthanized

In September, a horse in Black Forest suspected of having rabies was euthanized, and subsequent tests confirmed rabies.”Rabies in a horse is rare and hasn’t happened in Colorado for at least 25 years,” said Dr. Bernadette Albanese, medical director of the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment.Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Michael Seraphin said rabies is a virus and like other viruses, such as the flu, there are several different types of rabies, all of which are fatal if not treated.”In Colorado, the rabies we’ve dealt with for years is carried by bats,” he said.However, in June 2007, a coyote attacked an 87-year-old woman as she sat on her deck in southeastern Colorado, according to a report at Her husband killed the coyote, which later tested positive for skunk rabies.That was the first time skunk rabies had been reported in Colorado in 40 years, Seraphin said.”Since then, various other animals, particularly skunks, have been found to have this variant,” he said. “It’s been found in areas further to the west and further to the north in Colorado.””We don’t know whether this particular horse (in Black Forest) was actually bit by a skunk, but we’re assuming it’s skunk rabies,” Albanese said.According to a press release issued by the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment, as of Aug. 31, six rabid skunks were found this summer in El Paso County – a county that had been free of skunk rabies since 1970. Two of the rabid skunks were found in Peyton, one in Black Forest, two along El Paso County’s northern border to Elbert and Douglas counties and one on Powers Boulevard near Highway 83.All mammals can get rabies, Seraphin said, adding that skunks can get bat rabies and bats can get skunk rabies.Abnormal behavior in any animal – wild or domesticated – is a red flag, he said.”For bats, not acting normal would be flying around in the middle of the day. For a skunk, we’ve had reports ranging from stumbling around and acting dopey, to being aggressive and trying to attack dogs,” Albanese said. “We had one report of a skunk attacking a goat in the middle of the day. That’s not normal skunk behavior.”Tracy duCharme, who lives a few miles north of Hodgen Road, said she encountered a skunk on her property this summer.”Its eyes were glazed and it was walking around in circles in broad daylight and heading toward my llamas,” she said, so she trapped the skunk under a compost barrel, put a weight on it and tried to decide what to do.It was Sunday, and duCharme said the DOW was closed and the sheriff’s office told her they don’t respond to wildlife calls.The skunk had tunneled its way out from under the barrel and was gone the next morning. DuCharme immediately had her llamas vaccinated.Rabies is usually transmitted by a bite, because it’s in the animal’s saliva, Seraphin said.An article posted at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site states that rabies can also be transmitted when an infected animal’s saliva comes in contact with the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth of another animal.Seraphine said he’s frequently asked if rabies can be spread by skunk spray. “The answer is ‘no,'” he said. “The virus is not in their scent glands, but it’s in their mucous and other biological fluids.”According to the CDC, rabies typically has an incubation period ranging from one to three months after exposure; but, in rare cases, the incubation period can exceed a year.The CDC also notes that “of the 37 human rabies cases reported in the United States since 1990, no history of suspicious animal bite exposure was documented for 28 of the 30 cases presumed to be acquired in the United States.”In humans, the CDC includes fever, headache and weakness as early symptoms of the rabies virus, with later symptoms progressing to difficulty sleeping, anxiety, confusion, a tingling sensation at the site of the bite, hallucinations, agitation, drooling, difficulty swallowing and fear of water.”Once symptoms start, rabies is fatal. It’s a very serious disease, and there is no cure,” Albanese said. “That’s why it’s so important to make sure your pets and livestock are vaccinated.”We don’t want your dog and cat getting rabies and then you bring them inside your house and they start biting you or your kids. Vaccinating doesn’t just benefit the animal, it benefits people.”The El Paso County health department recommends these preventative steps:

  • Make sure your pets are up-to-date on rabies vaccinations.
  • Stay away from wild or unfamiliar animals. Rabid animals may show no fear and may even seem friendly.
  • If you must remove a dead skunk on your property, wear rubber gloves or lift the carcass with a shovel or other tool, and double-bag it for the trash.
  • If an animal bites you or a loved one, wash the exposed site immediately with soap and water and seek medical care.
  • If you see a skunk acting strangely or aggressively, call the Colorado Division of Wildlife at 719-227-5200.
  • Do not trap and relocate skunks. Doing so may spread rabies to another area.

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