Two Colorado dogs test positive for rabies, first since 2003

Two pet dogs in northeastern Colorado have tested positive for rabies, a first in more than a decade in the state and a finding that worries health officials who are also seeing a rise so far this year in the number of rabid skunks.

The dogs lived in Weld and Yuma counties, and their infections were confirmed earlier this month. Neither dog had a current vaccination for rabies. Both dogs were euthanized.

The dog in Weld County was a puppy that was infected after a run-in with a rabid skunk near Hudson, said Eric Aakko, a spokesman for the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment. The dog in Yuma County was a mixed-breed adult that a family near Wray had rescued, said Dr. Tony Cappello, the public health director for the Northeast Colorado Health Department. It was also infected by a skunk.

In Weld County, four dogs and six people who came into contact with the infected puppy are receiving post-exposure preventative treatment. In Yuma County, three people who had contact with the dog are receiving the treatment. So far, health officials in both counties said, it does not appear that the dogs spread rabies to other animals or people.

The last time a dog in Colorado tested positive for rabies was in 2003, but that dog had apparently been infected in Texas, according to the state Health Department. The last time a dog acquired a rabies infection in Colorado was in 1974.

But health officials worry that such infections could become more common — and that they could lead to human cases, too.

Prior to about 2006, rabies in Colorado was primarily spread by bats, Cappello said. But since then, the state has experienced an onslaught of rabies in skunks. So far this year, the state has recorded 41 cases of rabies in wild animals, but that counts only animals that were collected and tested. Cappello said this year has been especially bad for rabid skunks in northeastern Colorado, and rabid skunks have been found along the Front Range, too.

Rabies is a virus that is spread through the bite of an infected animal and can cause changes to behavior. It is almost always fatal, in both humans and other mammals, if untreated. Skunks can be particularly aggressive when stricken with rabies, and can spread the virus by attacking other animals, including dogs and people, Cappello said.

Up-to-date rabies vaccinations provide protection, though, and pet owners are encouraged to have their dogs or cats vaccinated.

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