Warmer months are approaching, and that means more time outdoors. San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) reminds the community that this increases the risk of contracting certain animal-borne diseases that are more common during warm weather months since 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 repellant 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:
The rabies virus can affect the nervous system of humans and other mammals if not addressed after exposure. 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 (even indoor pets) to keep them and their humans safe.
The plague bacterium 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. Even if you do not see a die off, there has been plague identified in our area, and you should take precautions for yourself, your family and your pets to avoid flea bites.
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 mosquitos.
Hantavirus is carried by the deer mice in our area, and is present in droppings, urine, and saliva. Exposure through cleaning can lead to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS). HPS is a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease. 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, ventilate the area by opening windows and doors. Wear gloves and spray all droppings down with a bleach solution (one part bleach, nine parts water) or an EPA-registered disinfectant until very wet and let soak for five minutes. Use a paper towel to pick up the urine and droppings and then clean the area with a disinfectant.
Tularemia is a bacterium found in rodent and rabbit populations and is transmitted by insect bites, direct transmission, or inhalation or ingestion. Only a small amount of bacteria is needed to infect a human, 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 SJBPH Communicable Diseases. Information is also available from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.