(June, 2022): The warm months bring more than just sunny days and favorite summer activities. Summertime also brings the risk of animal-, insect-, and tick-borne diseases as we are often in close contact with wildlife, even if we don’t intend to be. Given the potential for increased contact with wildlife (including the creeping, crawling, and buzzing kind), San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) encourages everyone to take precautions to prevent animal-borne diseases by controlling insects and rodents around your home and protecting yourself when you go outdoors.

There are several animal-borne diseases in the Southwest Colorado region, such as rabies, hantavirus, plague, West Nile Virus, tick-borne illnesses, and tularemia. Sometimes pets can be the cause of contracting one of these diseases. For example, if there are fleas with plague in the area, a dog that spends time outside can bring these fleas into the home where they can bite humans, infecting them with the disease.

Rabies can be carried by bats, skunks, raccoons, and coyotes, although bats are the most common carrier in Southwest Colorado. Domestic animals such as dogs, cats, cattle, and horses can become infected by being bitten by a wild animal.

Luckily there are several steps locals can take to keep people and pets safe:

  • Ensure your pet is on a vet-approved flea and tick repellent (some over-the-counter repellents can harm animals). Having this repellent on can keep your pet safe, and keeps them from bringing fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes into your home.
  • Keep pets up to date on rabies vaccinations. Remember that bats can get indoors, so be sure that your indoor pets are vaccinated as well.
  • If you find a bat in your home, do not release it. Instead, safely capture it for rabies testing.
  • How to capture a bat:
    • Use a container large enough for the bat to fit in and a piece of cardboard large enough to cover the opening. ​
    • Put on leather work gloves and wait for the bat to land (bats can’t fly from the ground). When the bat lands, approach it slowly and place the container over it. Slide the cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside. ​
    • Tape the cardboard to the container to secure the bat inside. ​
    • Call SJBPH for rabies testing.
  • If an active colony of prairie dogs suddenly disappears from your (or adjoining) property, call SJBPH for help in determining if it is a potential die-off that needs investigation for possible plague.
  • Do not feed, touch, move or relocate wild animals.​
  • If bitten or scratched by a pet or wild animal, immediately wash any wounds with soap and water, and contact your health care provider.​
  • To avoid mosquito- and tick-borne diseases, use insect repellent that is approved by the EPA when going outdoors.
  • Reduce the number of mosquitos around your home by emptying standing water from flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths on a regular basis.
  • How to avoid hantavirus:
    • Before cleaning up rodent droppings or nests, ventilate the space by opening the doors and windows for at least 30 minutes to allow fresh air to enter the area.
  • When you begin cleaning, it is important that you do not stir up dust by sweeping or vacuuming up droppings, urine, or nesting materials.
  • Wear rubber, latex, or vinyl gloves and spray down all droppings with a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water).
  • Use a paper towel to pick up the urine and droppings and dispose of the waste in the garbage.
  • How to avoid tularemia:
    • Before mowing, check the area for animal carcasses and remove them.
    • If you hunt, trap, or skin animals, use gloves when handling the animal and be sure to cook game meat thoroughly before eating it. 

It is always good to talk with your children about these precautions. 

To learn more about the symptoms, treatments, and other information for these diseases, visit:

SJBPH.

Information is also available from the:

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Shannon Rauh is the Communicable Disease Program Manager for San Juan Basin Public health. Reach her at srauh@sjbpublichealth.org.