August 9, 2013 Updated: August 11, 2013 at 10:15 am
A southwest Colorado Springs man was attacked by a rabid fox on Aug. 3 while trying to protect his dog, El Paso County Public Health reported Friday.
Public health officials said the man is recovering after the fox attacked him on Broadlake View in southwest Colorado Springs a couple miles from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
The attack came about two weeks after another fox that was hit by a car about a half mile away tested positive for rabies. According to public health officials, the two cases mark the first times an animal other than a bat has tested positive for rabies west of Interstate 25 in El Paso County. Several cases have been documented in the eastern part of the county.
The rabid animals are significant because in the wildland-urban interface in western Colorado Springs, people and pets are much more likely to be exposed to wild animals. Shannon Rowe, the communicable disease program manager for the health department, told The Gazette on Aug. 1 that many people take their pets onto trails in the forest where wild animals are abundant.
Health officials advise people to make sure pets are vaccinated, to avoid feeding wild animals and to teach children not to approach or play with wild or strange animals.
Rabies is transmitted from bites or saliva from infected animals. The disease causes brain swelling and damage. The disease is "almost always fatal" on symptoms appear, health officials said.
Public Health spokeswoman Danielle Oller could not discuss the man's condition but did say that he has been taking medication since shortly after the attack. Oller said preventive medication can be effective if the patient begins receiving doses before the onset of rabies symptoms.
It is important that people bitten or scratched by a wild animal or an unfamiliar animal contact their doctor immediately.
Oller said twice in the last two years, people have been bitten by rabid animals in El Paso County. In Oct. 2012 and April 2011, people were bitten by rabid skunks east of Interstate 25. In each case, the victims were treated with medication and survived.
Dr. Eric Klaphake, a veterinarian with the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, said public health officials contacted the zoo shortly after the foxes were found to be rabid.
Klaphake said the zoo has a "three-pronged" plan to deal with the nearby outbreak. The zoo's perimeter fence does a good job of keeping out critters such as skunks and foxes, he said. Occasionally, however, that perimeter is breached, he added.
"All our animals are current on their rabies vaccinations," Klaphake said, referencing the second prong of the plan.
The third aspect of the zoo's approach has to do with keeping staff educated about rabies and warning signs in the animals. Klaphake said zoo workers attend training four or five times a year. He added that given the recent attack, the subject of rabies has been part of several staff meetings, and regular emails are being delivered to keep the subject fresh in workers' minds.
Broadlake View also made the news in mid-March when a Dachshund was snatched by a mountain lion as its owner walked the dog in the small gated community off Star Ranch Road. The lion yanked the leash from the owner's hand and ate the dog, the Department of Parks and Wildlife said.
Officers caught the cougar, and it was euthanized.