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Epidemiologist raises rabies awareness

Posted: Thursday, Feb 28th, 2013

Regional Epidemiologist Ola Bovin Photo courtesy of Phyllis Pineda Bovin

SAN LUIS VALLEY – Last year was a record year for rabies in Colorado, and Ola Bovin, RN, San Luis Valley’s Regional Epidemiologist, is on a mission to raise awareness. In Colorado during 2012, 35 humans had known or suspected rabies exposures. Lab tests confirmed rabies in 183 animals. Because Pueblo had a high concentration of rabies cases during the last year, the chance that the disease could spread to the Valley is real.

Rabies is a preventable disease that infects the central nervous system. Early symptoms in people are similar to many other diseases, like fever and headache. As the disease progresses there may be confusion, partial paralysis, agitation, and other specific symptoms. Once these symptoms begin, death usually follows within days.

“The best thing we can do to protect ourselves from rabies here is to vaccinate all pets and livestock against rabies,” says Bovin. “Have your veterinarian give the vaccine. In the event of a rabies exposure, only veterinarian-administered vaccinations are valid for pets when determining the required quarantine and vaccinations to follow. Having a veterinarian vaccinate your animals can potentially save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in costs later. Puppies and kittens should be closely supervised when they venture outside until 28 days after they have been vaccinated as this how long it takes for the vaccine to become fully effective. Most rabies vaccines require booster vaccinations as well; talk to your veterinarian about this.

First aid for an animal bite should include thorough cleansing of the wound with soap and water. All animal bites should be evaluated by a physician immediately. Effective treatment is available to prevent rabies after a possible exposure. Contact the local Public Health Agency.

Those whose pets have been bitten someone, or people who are the victim of an animal bite are required by Colorado State Law to file a report with the Animal Control Unit or local law enforcement agency within 24 hours of the bite. Healthy-appearing cats, dogs, and ferrets that bite must be confined for 10 days and observed for signs of illness. If signs of illness appear, the animal should be evaluated by a veterinarian and the person who was bitten should seek medical advice.

Public Health has tested animals for rabies for a long time. Traditionally, bats have been tested most often, and roughly 10 perdcent of bats tested are positive for rabies. During 2007, eastern Colorado began to see an increase in rabies in skunks. Since then, it appears that rabies is moving westward in the skunk population. Rabies spreads quickly when it is carried by land-dwelling mammals like skunks, simply because they are very likely to have contact with other animals, like foxes, coyotes, and raccoons, which in turn may spread the disease.

Animals with abnormal behavior such as staggering, aggression, lethargy, excessive salivation, circling, paralysis, or seizures, should be suspected of having rabies. It is important not to euthanize animal by shooting it in the head, because the virus can be found in the brain, spine, and saliva. It is the brain that is tested for rabies.

Contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife if you see wild animals behaving strangely; contact the local public health agency of an animal that should be tested. Call 587-5250. See slvrabies.blogspot.com/ and www.cdc.gov/rabies/.

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