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Rabies confirmed in Huerfano County- signs to watch for

by John C. Davis, DVM, MS
HUERFANO- Recently a bat was confirmed positive for rabies in the River Ridge Ranch area of Huerfano County. Five domestic cats were exposed and have been placed under quarantine for observation.
Rabies is a fatal disease caused by a virus. All warm-blooded animals including humans are susceptible. Rabies is usually spread when an infected animal bites another animal or person. The bitten animal or person will not become infected, however, unless the saliva of the sick animal contains the rabies virus at the time of the bite. The bat, skunk, raccoon, and fox are the most commonly infected wild animals and act as a reservoir for the disease. Dogs, cats, horses and occasionally cattle are the most commonly infected domestic animals.
Because the signs of rabies vary, diagnosis is very difficult while the animal is alive. The only positive diagnosis is by laboratory examination of certain tissues.
Early in the disease, affected animals may show a slight change in behavior or temperament. As the disease progresses, the animal becomes restless and excitable and may have a tendency to roam or eat unusual objects. The animal then may have trouble swallowing and may begin to drool excessively (thus the archaic term hydrophobia). Frequently the animal becomes vicious. Convulsions may occur and death usually follows shortly thereafter. Some animals do not die in convulsions, but instead suffer paralysis of the lower jaw. This paralysis spreads over the body and death occurs. This is called “dumb” rabies or atypical rabies.
If a suspected rabid dog or cat bites a person, the animal should be quarantined for 10 days. If the animal develops signs of rabies or dies, tissues must be sent to a laboratory for examination. If a wild animal bites a person, every effort should be made to capture the animal for diagnostic tests.
Vaccination for all pets is the best means of rabies control. In areas of significant risk, horses should also be vaccinated. Rabies vaccine is available and approved for ferrets, cats, dogs, sheep, cattle and horses.
Wild animals should not be kept as pets, nor vaccinated for rabies. There is no approved rabies vaccine available for wild animals. Be wary of wild animals behaving strangely and of those who have apparently lost their fear of man. Educate your children not to approach wild animals which appear sick or have no fear. Children are curious and want to help but the risks are way too high!
Don’t be sorry… THINK RABIES FIRST!
Dr. Davis is a practicing veterinarian in Southern Colorado. He is also a Captain in the US Public Health Service Reserve.