Animal-related Diseases


Animal-related (zoonotic) diseases are diseases that affect both humans and animals. SJBPH’s goal it to protect residents from bacterial and viral diseases transmitted by mammals, mosquitos, ticks, and fleas. Some of these diseases have long been present in the State of Colorado while others have recently emerged. These diseases are hantavirus, plague, rabies, tularemia, and West Nile virus.

SJBPH would like to remind residents to be rabies aware, not just for themselves but for their pets as well. Any wild mammal, such as raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote, or bat can have rabies and transmit it to people or domesticated animals through a bite. Bats are by far the most common carriers of rabies in Colorado including La Plata and Archuleta counties. Bats should never be in your home; if a bat is present in your home, it should be safely captured and tested for rabies.

Reporting Animal Bites

The Communicable Disease team works closely with providers, hospitals, and animal control partners to assess human and domestic pet exposure to rabies reservoir species. Animal bites are a reportable condition and must be immediately reported to public health.  

Travelers also might be exposed to canine rabies in certain other countries. Vaccinating pets, avoiding contact with wildlife, and seeking medical care if one is bitten or scratched by an animal are the most effective ways to prevent rabies. Understanding the need for timely administration of Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent death is critical.

To report an animal die-off or a diseased rodent, call 970-335-2004. 

Zoonotic Diseases in Our Area

Rabies is a fatal but preventable viral disease. It can spread to people and pets if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal. Rabies is mostly found in wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Read more from the CDC.

Hantavirus affects the lungs and is spread to people by infected rodents, especially the deer mouse. Infection can lead to a serious complication that is fatal about 40% of the time. Read more from the CDC.

Plague is a disease that affects humans and other mammals and is caused a bacterium. Humans usually get plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the bacterium, or by handling an animal infected with plague. Read more from the CDC

Tularemia is caused by a bacterium. Also known as “rabbit fever,” tularemia is most often found in rabbits, rodents, and hares, and can be carried by ticks, deer flies, horse flies, and mosquitoes. Read more from the CDC

West Nile virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. There are no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat West Nile virus in people. While many who are infected do not feel sick, about 1 in 5 develop a fever and other symptoms. About 1 out of 150 infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness. Read more from the CDC.

Remember, it is not uncommon to find dead animals or birds. Animals and birds die every day from natural causes, predators, or disease. It is important to report suspicious deaths to your local health department so that they can be documented, and a decision made to determine if a test is necessary to determine if the cause of death is associated with a zoonotic disease.