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Rabies Concerns in Larimer County

photo of skunk

Rabies Brochure

If you see or encounter an animal that appears sick or acting in a way unlike its species, stay clear of the animal and contact Larimer County Animal Control at 970-226-3647, #7. If you suspect your pet, livestock, you or a family member have been exposed to rabies, contact the Health Department (970-498-6775) or your veterinarian immediately.

Latest news:

July 5, 2013: First cat confirmed to have rabies in Larimer County. See press release.

July 10, 2013: Bull dies of rabies in Weld County: 4th livestock death in Colorado to rabies this year. See press release.

January 1, 2013: : The Larimer Humane Society is no longer able to pick up dead animals in unincorporated Larimer County (outside of city/town limits) due to budget restrictions. This includes picking up animals in public areas, such as public roads and parks, nor dead animals on private property. Information on dead animal pick-up.

Rabies maps

Important information before reading the maps:

The numbers of animals on these maps are just a portion of how many rabid animals are in Larimer County. There are numerous other rabid animals throughout the County, including neighborhoods, unincorporated areas, foothills and mountain communities, that are NOT on these maps. These maps only show where animals have been trapped and tested positive for rabies. Not all reported animals are tested and/or trapped. Some animals are never reported. Many rabid wild animals die in hiding and are not seen. These maps are merely a guide and can be useful to see where clusters of rabid animals are located. It's important to note that a rabid animals may show up anywhere in Larimer County and at any time.

Larimer County's Rabies situation

In early Spring 2012, a skunk found close to the foothills in Fort Collins tested positive for rabies. This was the first time the skunk type of rabies (terrestrial) had been confirmed in a populated area of Larimer County. Since then, the number of rabid skunks and other animals in Larimer County has risen steadily and continues to rise. Live rabid skunks have now been found in Larimer County in every season and they are expected to continue to pose a rabies risk year-round.

Since 2012, the numbers of rabid animals continues to rise, and the species that have been infected other than bats and skunks include raccoons, a cat, fox, bison. A horse and a bull (cattle) died of rabies after encounters with a rabid skunk in Weld County, close to the Larimer County line. Bats are also carriers of rabies in Larimer County, but are mostly present in the spring and summer.

If you see a skunk, bat, or any wild animal acting abnormally or sick, call Humane Society Animal Control at 970-226-3647, #7. If you suspect your pet, livestock, you or a family member have been exposed to rabies, contact the Health Department at 970-498-6775 or your veterinarian immediately.

See a video on skunk rabies:

Most bats and/or skunks do not carry rabies, but it is important to follow some basic guidelines when interacting with any wild animal.

For your health and safety:

  • Never touch a living or dead wild bat, skunk, or any wild animal.
  • Call the Larimer Humane Society's Animal Control (226-3647, #7) if you see: a bat, a skunk, or any wild or feral animal that has bitten or scratched a human or pet; a nocturnal animal that is active in the daytime (both skunks and bats are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night and usually not seen during the day); a bat that is sluggish, lying on the ground, or lands on a human; or a skunk that is having trouble keeping its balance, is walking in circles or is not afraid to approach pets or humans; any wild (or unvaccinated feral) animal that is acting sluggish, aggressive, that scratches or bites you or your pets.
  • Keep your pets up to date on their rabies and other vaccinations. Cats are especially known for playing with either a sluggish or dead bat. If the cat or you can pick up a bat, chances are it is sick. Dogs can chase and tangle with skunks that might be easier to catch when they are sick. Skunks with rabies might climb fences or enter a kennel and confront your pet, something we are seeing more frequently in Larimer County.
  • Remember: No matter how cute or soft they look, bats, skunks, and other wild animals do not want to be captured or touched by humans. Observe them from a safe distance and do not touch them even if they seem dead or are not moving! Do not offer them food or anything from your hand.
  • Call the Larimer County Health Department if you have other questions about exposure to animals with rabies at 970-498-6775.

Questions and answers about rabies, skunks, and bats in Larimer County

General Information on rabies, bats and skunks in Larimer County

What is rabies?

Rabies is an infectious disease of warm-blooded mammals. It is carried by a virus that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). If not treated it results in paralysis and, eventually, death. It may be transmitted to animals or humans by a bite or other exposure to the saliva of an infected animal.

A variety of animals can get rabies. Why the concern about skunks and bats?

Before 2007, the main source of rabies in Colorado was bats. Since 2007, however, skunk rabies has spread rapidly from eastern Colorado and along the Front Range so that skunks are now considered the main animal source for rabies in Colorado.

In May, 2012, a rabid skunk was found in the foothills near Fort Collins. Since that time, the number of rabid skunks continues to rise. Once skunk rabies is established in an area, it cannot be eradicated, and can sometimes spread infections to other common wild animals, such as foxes, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats as well as to horses, any livestock, dogs and cats.

In Colorado, rabies is endemic in bats. This means that the virus is constantly present in a small portion of the bat population.

Other mammals can get rabies from an infected skunk or bat or another animal that has been bitten by one with rabies. Pets can be protected from getting this disease through vaccination. The fatality rate for untreated rabies is 100% meaning that all unvaccinated animals who contract rabies will die of the disease.

Is rabies a summer disease?
Prior to terrestrial rabies coming to Larimer County, we mostly saw rabies From July through early fall. This is because the numbers of bats in Larimer County increase as several bat species migrate to our area in early spring. Some bats hibernate here and stay year-round. Late spring is also when baby skunks usually begin to appear, hunting with their mothers. Since more skunks are active at this time, encounters with humans and pets are more likely. However, we are now seeing rabid skunks in Larimer County year-round, not just in the spring and summer.

When are bats and skunks normally active?
Summer evenings are prime time for bat activity as they catch insects and feed on certain flowers. If a bat is out in the daytime, acting sluggish, or crawling on the ground, chances are it is sick. Skunks search for food from dusk to dawn, feeding on mice, eggs, carrion, insects, grubs, and berries. At sunrise, skunks usually retire to their dens. If a skunk is out in the daytime, acting frenetic or abnormally sluggish, walking in circles or unable to keep its balance, chances are it is sick.

Should I be afraid of bats and skunks?
No. Both are a beneficial part of our ecosystem and normally will not harm you if left alone. However, it's important to be cautious and avoid human/bat/skunk encounters, and any wild animal encounter, especially if the animals are out in the daytime, acting odd for their species, or moving or flying erratically.

Why do I need to be cautious around animals in the wild?
Most healthy wild animals don't want to be touched by humans. They might bite in response. A bite from animal with rabies can transmit it to you or your unvaccinated pet. Untreated rabies is a serious, deadly disease in animals and humans.

Can rabies be cured?
No. There is an effective treatment for humans that needs to be administered soon after being bitten (post-exposure) to prevent rabies. There is no effective post-exposure treatment for unvaccinated animals, though vaccinated animals will receive a rabies booster Without post-exposure treatment, rabies is usually fatal in humans. It is always fatal in unvaccinated animals.

Do all bats and skunks carry rabies?
No, most bats and skunks do not carry rabies and pose little health risk. But with the continuing rise in the number of animals testing positive for rabies, it's wise to be cautious around all wild animals and to protect your pets from exposure to wildlife.

If only a small number of bats and skunks have rabies, why are humans and household pets also at risk of getting it?
Though the number of bats and skunks with rabies is small, exposure to sick animals is more likely to happen than close exposure to healthy ones. It is more likely you will be exposed to a sick bat or skunk since they are often moving slowly, and in places that they normally would avoid, where humans and other animals are present. It is possible that a person or a family pet could come in close contact with an infected animal (through a bite, a scratch or, with family pets, by playing with the sick animal). The infected animal could pass rabies virus to someone who handles it, is bitten or scratched by it, or has other contact with the animal's saliva.

Is rabies carried in skunk spray?
No. The rabies virus in only transmitted through a bite contaminated by an infected animal's saliva. However, if your pet gets sprayed they may have gotten close enough to a sick skunk to have been bitten. Check a pet that has been sprayed for any sign of a bite.

I've never seen a skunk in Larimer County. Are there really enough of them to make this dangerous?
Healthy skunks are mostly nocturnal and are not seen by most humans during the day. It is very likely you have smelled skunks in our neighborhoods and foothills. Healthy skunks avoid interactions with humans and other animals, so it is unlikely that you would regularly see them. But a skunk with rabies loses that caution and can tangle with another wild or domestic animal and bite it, passing on the infection.

A rabid skunk can pass on rabies to animals we see frequently in Larimer County such as foxes, coyotes, or raccoons. It can bite and infect livestock. It is evident that skunk rabies is here, whether you see skunks or not.

Rabies shots (Rabies vaccination)

When people get "rabies shots," does this mean they have rabies?
No. Each summer a small number of Larimer County residents receive rabies post-exposure vaccine ("rabies shots") because it's very likely that they were exposed to the saliva of a rabid bat or other animal with rabies. Receiving the vaccine does not mean the person has rabies. The shots prevent the onset of rabies in a person who has likely been exposed to the virus.

Who should get rabies vaccine?

  • If the bat, skunk or other animal that has bitten the person was found and tested positive for rabies, it is always recommended that rabies vaccine be started immediately.
  • Sometimes it is recommended that a person receive the shots even when there is no proof that the bat or skunk had rabies. If a person has been bitten or scratched but is unable to capture the animal for testing, it's recommended that they undergo rabies vaccination as a precaution. There are other situations where rabies vaccination may be recommended. Your local health department can help you determine if you need the shots. Remember, in situations when a bat is physically present and you cannot reasonably rule out having been bitten, safely contain the animal for rabies testing, call animal control (970-226-3647, Ext. 7) and seek medical attention immediately.
  • If you have been bitten by either a bat or a skunk or any other animal you don't know, contain the animal (if possible to do it safely) and call animal control at 970-226-3647, #7 to pick it up for evaluation for rabies. Do NOT touch the animal.

I've heard that the rabies shots are given in the stomach and that there are 21 shots in all. Is that true?
No. Treatment to prevent rabies is considerably easier and less painful than it was before 1967. Untreated rabies in humans in almost universally fatal. Treatment should start within 7 days of exposure whenever possible, the sooner the better.

Treatment for rabies now takes 4 visits, unless the person has been vaccinated previously for rabies.

  • At the first visit, the person will receive a rabies vaccination in the upper arm, plus one or more injections with rabies immune globulin (RIG). The amount of RIG given is based on a person's weight, and usually the RIG is injected at the site(s) where a bite has occurred (if apparent), as well as in the arm or the buttocks, depending on the volume needed.
  • After the first visit, the other three visits just involve a vaccine given in the upper arm, similar to a flu shot, given 3, 7, and 14 days after the first visit.

Where do I go for a rabies vaccine?

If you require rabies vaccination after exposure to a rabid animal, call your physician's office or a local emergency room. The health department does not administer rabies vaccine for post-exposure treatment. If you are uncertain where to go, call the Health Department (498-6775).

How long will it take to develop rabies after getting bit?

If vaccine has not been given, there can be up to a year between the time of the exposure and the time symptoms begin, but the time may be considerably less. By the time symptoms appear, it's too late for the vaccine to be effective.

Should I vaccinate my indoor pets for rabies if they never go outside?
Yes! All household pets should be kept up to date on their rabies vaccinations. Indoor pets can be bitten by a rabid bat that is in the house or they might escape outside where they could come in contact with a skunk or other rabid animal. Cats in particular like to play with or hunt animals on the ground. A rabid bat on the ground either indoors or outdoors could make an easy catch for a cat. If your pet is not up-to-date on rabies vaccination, they could face an expensive six-month quarantine or euthanasia. Keep dogs leashed when hiking and walking in your neighborhood. Loose dogs may tangle with a rabid skunk or other sick wildlife without the owner being aware it has happened.

Rabies can infect dogs, cats, foxes, raccoons, skunks and other mammals after being bitten by an animal with rabies. Any infected animal can transmit the infection to humans by a bite.

Why are bats and skunks tested for rabies?

If a bat or skunk that has bitten or come in contact with a human tests positive for rabies, the exposed person can begin the vaccination series right away. If the test is negative (no rabies), the exposed person or animal will not need the vaccinations. If it is a household pet that is up to date on its rabies vaccine, it should receive a rabies booster. The pet's veterinarian should be contacted as soon as possible after the suspected or confirmed contact.

What to do if you have an encounter with a sick or dead animal

Please note: Due to budget reductions, as of January 1, 2013 the Larimer Humane Society will no longer be able to pick up dead animals in unincorporated Larimer County (outside of city/town limits). This includes picking up animals in public areas, such as public roads and parks, nor dead animals on private property. Please see http://larimer.org/codecompliance/barking_dogs.pdf for information on dead animal pickup. If you have further questions, call the Health Department at 970-498-6775.

  • NEVER touch the animal, even if it appears dead!
  • Try to contain a bat in the room where it is found. Close the entrances to the room or place a box over it. Bat Conservation International, Inc. has a useful video on how to safely capture a bat using a box.
  • Call the Larimer Humane Society's Animal Control number (226-3647, #7) to report a bat, skunk, or other encounter with an animal that looks sick.
  • If the bat or skunk or other aggressive animal has bitten or scratched you, wash the affected area immediately and call your doctor as soon as possible.

To prevent exposure rabies

  • Never touch a wild bat, skunk, raccoon, fox or any other wild animal even it if appears "tame". Healthy wildlife usually want to avoid humans. A bat that is slow, lying on the ground, or lands on a person could be showing signs of illness. Skunks or other wildlife acting erratically or abnormally their species could be sick.
  • Remember, any wild animal, including wild animal babies, should be left alone. If you are concerned, contact the Larimer Humane Society's Animal Control number, 226-3647, #7.
  • Keep your doors and windows covered with intact screens. Don't leave screenless doors or windows open in the evenings. If you have a pet door, be sure it does not lead into an uncontained part of the house, or close outdoor access to the pet door at night if your pet is indoors.
  • If bats can get into your house, try to find the source of their entrance and seal it. See www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats.html for information on making your home bat-proof.
  • If you find a dead bat, do not pick it up with your hands, even if you're wearing gloves. Use a shovel.
  • If you find a dead skunk, call animal control at 970-226-3647, #7.
  • If you or your pets are bitten by a bat or if you suspect you've been exposed to its saliva, try to contain the bat without further contact and call animal control at 970-226-3647, #7. If you or your pets have been bitten by a skunk or other wildlife or aggressive animal that cannot be contained, note where it has gone and call animal control.
  • Be sure your pets are up to date on their rabies vaccines. If your animals have not been vaccinated, call your veterinarian.
  • Teach your children the value of bats and skunks, but also that they should never touch them. If they find one, they should leave it where it is and tell an adult.
  • Share with your children the beauty of our natural world, including the beauty of the varied wildlife in Northern Colorado. Teach them how to observe, learn and admire from a safe distance and to never chase, disturb or touch any wild animal, including wildlife babies.

For More Information

Background Image: Loveland Bike Trail by Sharon Veit. All rights reserved.