On March 15, a dog in El Paso County tested positive for rabies. Individuals and animals who have been exposed to the rabid dog have been assessed by El Paso County Public Health and are receiving preventative vaccination.

In 2017 and 2018, Colorado and El Paso County experienced an outbreak of rabies in skunks. This year three animals (dog, skunk and a fox) have tested positive for rabies in El Paso County. The last reported case of a rabid dog in El Paso County was in 1974.

Rabies has largely been eliminated in domestic animals in the United States through successful vaccination and licensing programs. All domestic animals in El Paso County are required by law to be vaccinated for rabies by a licensed veterinarian. This ensures that the vaccine is given properly (that is, the proper type of vaccine, dose, route of administration, storage conditions, frequency of boosters, etc.) and will prevent the spread of disease.

In this case, the dog was administered a rabies vaccine by its owner, not a licensed veterinarian. Self-administering a rabies vaccine that was purchased at a store does not guarantee protection against rabies and the pet will be considered unvaccinated.

“The owner thought they were doing the right thing by buying and administering the vaccine themselves. Unfortunately, the vaccine was not handled appropriately and was not effective,” said Haley Zachary, epidemiologist at El Paso County Public Health.

Rabies is a viral disease that infects the brain and other parts of the central nervous system, causing brain swelling and damage, and ultimately, death. Rabies is spread primarily through the bite of rabid animals, resulting in the spread of the disease through their infected saliva. Rabies also can be spread when saliva from an infected animal gets into open wounds, cuts or enters through the eyes, nose, or mouth.

If bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, rabies is usually fatal in humans once symptoms appear. A very effective preventative vaccination is available for people known or suspected to have been bitten by a rabid animal.

“Pet owners need to understand how close the threat of rabies is to their families,” said Dr. Robin Johnson, medical director at El Paso County Public Health. “Living in Colorado, rabies is often as close as your own backyard due to the skunks, raccoons or foxes that walk through there. Vaccinating your pets is your first line of defense.”

Take these precautions to prevent rabies:

  • Vaccinate your pets against rabies by using a licensed veterinarian. Rabies shots need to be boosted, so check your pet’s records or talk to your veterinarian.
  • When walking or hiking with your dog, protect them and wildlife by keeping your dog on a leash.
  • Keep cats and other pets inside at night to reduce the risk of exposure to other domestic animals and wildlife. Keep dogs within your sight (in a fenced yard, or on leash) during the day while outside.
  • Contact your veterinarian promptly if you believe your pet has been exposed to a wild animal.
  • Do not touch or feed wild animals. Wild animals like skunks and foxes adapt to residential environments if food is available – please don’t leave pet food outdoors.
  • Do not try to touch or help sick animals as they may carry diseases that are a risk to humans.

Reports of Confirmed Rabies in El Paso County, Colorado (2010-2019)

2019: 3 (dog, skunk, fox)

2018: 67 (60 skunks, 6 bats, 1 raccoon)

2017: 28 (7 bats, 21 skunks)

2016: 3 (bats)

2015: 5 (4 bats, 1 cat)

2014: 10 (bats)

2013: 8 (4 bats, 2 foxes, 2 skunks)

2012: 3 (3 bats)

2011: 15 (5 bats, 1 fox, 9 skunks)

2010: 17 (8 bats, 4 foxes, 5 skunks)

For non-emergency, general questions about rabies, call COHELP at 1-877-462-2911 on Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

For more information on reporting an animal bite visit www.elpasocountyhealth.org/report-an-animal-bite.