Monday, June 29, 2009

Preventing Animal-Borne Disease

Summer is here and with it comes increased risk of certain animal-borne diseases, like rabies for instance. Rabies is a disease casued by a virus that affects wild animals, domestic animals (like pets and livestock), and humans. Recently, rabies has been found in skunks in the state of Colorado and appears to be moving west towards the Denver metro area. This is something that concerns me and those of us in public health who spend their days monitoring, educating and reporting on animal-borne disease, or zoonosis. I’m David Volkel, environmental health specialist with Jefferson County Public Health’s Zoonosis Program. Throughout the summer, I’ll be sharing with you some of the reasons why I am so passionate about what I do and give you ways you can prevent animal-borne disease.

Animal control officers, veterinarians and pet owners are reminded to take all precautions when dealing with both domestic and wild animals. Since January, 2009 there have been 14 laboratory confirmed cases of skunk rabies in the following counties: Morgan (6), Yuma (4), Lincoln (1). Kiowa (1), Kit Carson (1) and El Paso (1). The most recent case of skunk rabies occurred in northeastern El Paso County. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) has tested 22 animals for rabies so far in 2009 with three of those being bats. There have not been any positive tests for rabies yet but the possibility of rabies always exists.

These numbers mean there is an increased possibility that domestic pets may interact and become infected with rabies infected skunks or bats or other mammals. Every pet owner is urged to vaccinate their dogs, cats and ferrets against rabies.

Pet owners have an important role to play in preventing animal-borne diseases. Regular visits to the veternarian, staying up to date with vaccinations, keeping animals from roaming free are all important measures. Fortunately, the vaccination rate for dogs is fairly high because most muncipalities require a rabies vaccination for licenses, however cat vaccination rate has plenty of room for improvement. The lower vaccination rate for cats is because most muncipalities do not require cats to be licensed and there are many stray cats. Consider this, if a cat encounters a rabid bat or skunk and is not protected by a current rabies vaccination, the cat will be required to undergo a 180 day quarantine in a secure faclity (in an individual cage in a pet boarding faclity) or face euthanasia. If you feed a stray cat, by default, you are the cat owner and will be asked to make that decision. Getting your pets vaccinated, saves lives!

In addition to regular vaccination, keep you and your family safe from exposure to rabies and other diseases and parasites by not handling wild animals and instructing your children not to approach or touch wild animals. And, remember to keep bats out of your home by sealing all openings and keep screens (in good condition) on all doors and windows.

For more information on preventing animal-borne disease, please visit:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Getting to Know an Environmental Health Specialist

I have really enjoyed sharing food safety information with you all. I hope you liked it and found it informative. I am now going to turn over the blog to my friend Dave Volkel in the Zoonosis program. He's going to tell you all about preventing Animal-borne disease.


Carla Opp
Environmental Health Specialist

Friday, June 5, 2009

We are Not Our of the Woods Yet . . . Novel Influenza A (H1N1)

We are Not Out of the Woods Yet . . . Novel Influenza A (H1N1)

The novel influenza A (H1N1) virus took center stage in April of this year and within weeks had infected people in the United States and across the globe. Public Health officials around the world sounded the alarm, our media, government, and community partners responded accordingly and the general public had the opportunity to watch from their living rooms and computer screens a new and potentially deadly influenza virus emerge onto the world stage.

Fortunately, the severity of illness caused by H1N1 has been fairly mild and most are able to recover at home without complications, yet for some the illness has proved deadly and no one really knows how severe this virus really is. As community spread has occurred, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its State counterparts are focused on tracking more severe illness and case counts reflect only those hospitalized with confirmed illness in their Novel H1N1 Flu Situation Updates. Thus official case counts greatly underestimate actual spread through the community and the exact number of infected persons will never be known. What is known is that the virus is here, and public health professionals nationwide expect that illnesses and deaths may continue for some time. Since you, or people around you, may become ill with influenza it is important to know how to recognize the symptoms and take appropriate actions.
The symptoms of H1N1 flu virus are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some of those infected have also reported diarrhea and vomiting. If you get sick, stay home and take measures to prevent spreading illness to others. Be sure to contact a physician if symptoms do not resolve or if you have other chronic health conditions or if you are pregnant.
Jefferson County Public Health continues to be actively involved in responding to H1N1 influenza A. At this time, our response goals are to reduce the spread and severity of illness, and to provide information to help health care providers, government officials and the public address the challenges posed by this new public health threat. We are working with schools, community partners, hospitals, municipalities, volunteers and others to be sure Jefferson County is ready for the influenza season this fall and the potential for a reemergence of this novel virus. During the past weeks these activities have included frequent outreach with health care providers and dissemination of information to higher risk settings for spread, including nursing homes, hospitals, correctional facilities, child care centers and schools. Because the majority of mild illness is not detected by our current disease surveillance systems, we are working with our school district to track absenteeism-- related to fever and respiratory symptoms--at every school. This system will greatly help us to track the probable return of this and related flu strains in the fall.

It is important that we not let our guard down and pay close attention to messages about preventing the spread of disease in our communities,” says Dr. Gayle Miller, Jefferson County Public Health Senior Epidemiologist. Officials monitoring the H1N1 influenza are looking closely south of the equator where flu season is just beginning. How H1N1 spreads there, whether it exchanges genetic material with another virus could give us a good idea of what might happen next fall here in the United States. “We know from past pandemics that there is a possibility that this strain of H1N1, which happened to have emerged in the Spring at the tail end of seasonal influenza season, could come back with a vengeance in the Fall. We need to be prepared for that.” (Learn more information on the history of flu pandemics.)
Public health and its disease detectives are keeping a close eye on the novel H1N1 influenza A virus and will inform the public of necessary updates as they unfold. The public also has an important role in disease control, we urge you to do you part and pay close attention to preventing the spread of disease in our communities.
Protect Yourself, Your Family, and Community

  • Stay informed. Health officials will provide additional information as it becomes available. Visit the CDC H1N1 Flu website. Colorado HelpLine at 1-877-462-2911
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with a flu-like illness, stay home for 7 days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. Keep away from other household members as much as possible. This is to keep you from infecting others and spreading the virus further.
  • Learn more about how to take care of someone who is ill in "Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home"
  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds, and other social distancing measures.
  • If you don’t have one yet, consider developing a family emergency plan as a precaution. This should include storing a supply of extra food, medicines, and other essential supplies. Further information can be found in the "Flu Planning Checklist "

For more information on Novel Influenza A (H1N1) and its warning signs, visit our website at