A bat has become the 10th animal to test positive for rabies in El Paso County, the state Department of Public Health and Environment said Thursday.
Rabies is more common in summer, and the virus mostly affects bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes, says a news release from the agency.
Despite popular belief, squirrels and rabbits are not considered a rabies risk, the release says.
This year, seven skunks, one fox and one dog have tested positive for rabies countywide.
The dog, which lived with its owner in the Monument area, contracted the fatal virus in early March and was euthanized, county health officials said. It was the first rabid dog reported in the county in 45 years.
The case highlighted concerns by public health officials that pet owners are illegally vaccinating their animals by unlicensed veterinarians, or even by themselves.
The first citation for having an unvaccinated or improperly vaccinated dog is $45, and fines rise with each subsequent violation, said Gretchen Pressley, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region.
Rabies affects the brain and central nervous system, causing brain swelling and damage. It is almost always fatal.
The viral disease is spread through bites via infected saliva, but it also can be contracted when a rabid animal’s saliva gets into an open wound or the eyes, nose or mouth.
“Awareness and prevention are the most important tools Public Health and the community have to protect our pets, families and selves from rabies and other infectious diseases,” said Dr. Robin Johnson, medical director for Public Health, in a statement.
“We want to continue to share these best practices with everyone in the community so they can make informed decisions and remain safe.”
A preventive vaccination is available for people who have been bitten. Anyone bitten or scratched by a rabid animal is encouraged to contact their doctor immediately and notify the county health department at elpasocountyhealth.org/report-an-animal-bite.
To prevent rabies, Public Health recommends:
• Vaccinate pets against rabies by using a licensed veterinarian.
• Protect dogs from wildlife when walking or hiking by keeping them on a leash.
• Keep domestic pets inside at night.
• Contact a vet if a pet has been exposed to a wild animal.
• Do not touch or feed wild animals.
• Bat bites can be difficult to detect. If a bat is found inside a house, do not release it. Contact county Public Health at 719-578-3220.
• Contact the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region for stray dogs or cats at 719-473-1741.