By Megan Graham | San Juan Basin Public Health
With warmer months approaching and residents spending more time outdoors, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) reminds the community that the risk of contracting certain animal-borne diseases increases. These zoonotic diseases are more common during warm-weather months when humans and animals are frequently in close contact.
SJBPH stresses the importance of controlling the presence of rodents and mosquitoes around homes as well as wearing insect repellent and appropriate clothing when heading outdoors. Additionally, pets should be kept up to date on vaccinations, and protected from fleas and ticks. Do not feed or handle wild animals, especially those that appear sick. Do not handle dead animals or animal waste. Keep your kids safe by making them aware of these precautions.
Below is an overview of animal-borne diseases that are present in our community.
Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. People usually contract rabies from the bite or scratch of a rabies-infected animal. If a bat has been present in a room in which someone sleeps, it is important to trap and test the bat for rabies. Call SJBPH for further guidance or to report an encounter with a suspect animal. Also, always vaccinate pets to keep them and their humans safe.
Plague is caused by bacteria that can be transmitted to humans by the bites of infected fleas or by direct contact with infected animals. Plague is frequently detected in rock squirrels, prairie dogs, wood rats and other species of ground squirrels and chipmunks. SJBPH investigates prairie dog population die-offs for the presence of plague. If an active colony of prairie dogs suddenly disappears, report this to SJBPH.
West Nile virus
West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes and can be passed on to humans through mosquito bites. This disease can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). Use insect repellent when going outdoors and empty standing water around residences to reduce the number of mosquitoes.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a severe, sometimes fatal respiratory disease. Hantavirus is carried by wild rodents, particularly deer mice, and is present in their droppings, urine and saliva. Dried droppings or urine can be stirred up in dust and humans may contract hantavirus by breathing in the contaminated air. When cleaning up mouse droppings, wear a mask and gloves and the keep the area ventilated by opening windows and doors. Spray all droppings down with a bleach solution before using a paper towel to pick up the urine and droppings.
Tularemia is maintained in the rodent and rabbit populations and is transmitted by insect bites, direct transmission, or inhalation or ingestion of the bacteria. The infective dose is very small and the bacterium can persist for long periods of time in the environment in water, soil and carcasses. Wear gloves when handling animals while hunting, trapping or dressing them. Do not mow over sick or dead animals when landscaping.
Colorado tick fever is the most common tick-borne disease in Colorado, though most cases go unreported. It’s a viral illness characterized by fever, headache, body aches, nausea, abdominal pain and lethargy. Complete recovery may take two to three weeks. The disease is not life-threatening and infection results in lifelong immunity. There is currently no preventative vaccine or effective treatment except to let the disease run its course.
Rocky Mountain wood ticks can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever. There may be a sudden onset of high fever, headache, chills and muscle aches. A rash often appears a few days later. The illness can be cured with antibiotics, but prompt medical attention is extremely important because Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be fatal if treatment is delayed.
To learn more about the symptoms, treatments and other information about these diseases, visit https://sjbpublichealth.org/communicabledisease/.
Information is also available from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://cdphe.colorado.gov/animal-related-diseases or https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/index.html.