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:

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