A young raccoon found in Highlands Ranch July 3 is Douglas County's first confirmed case of rabies in a land animal in at least 10 years, state health officials said.
"We have seen positive (results) in bats in that area of Douglas County before, but we have not seen a land-based animal," said Dr. Jennifer House, a veterinarian with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "And this is concerning for us. They have a higher possibility of infecting domestic pets."
Two dogs encountered the raccoon during the day on a neighborhood street west of University Boulevard and Highlands Ranch Parkway, according to Tri-County Health Department officials.
"One of the challenges we see with rabid animals is they do stuff they don't normally do," said Tom Butts, Tri-County's deputy director. "Skunks and raccoons are out in the middle of the day instead of being in hiding. So a critter that normally would have run away, hidden and avoided contact with people and animals loses their fear of people or gets aggressive."
Butts said the dogs likely killed the raccoon, but said it may have been nearly dead when they found it. Fortunately, the dogs' rabies vaccinations were current.
"If a dog is up to date on its rabies vaccines, has had the initial shot and the booster and the appropriate interval, they receive an additional rabies vaccine and are put on a 45-day home quarantine," he said.
If an animal hasn't been vaccinated or its vaccination is not current, the quarantine period is much longer, and not just a home quarantine but in an animal shelter or secure environment.
"It's not cheap," Butts said. "The minimal cost of a vaccination is the way to go."
Butts said dogs, cats and horses all should be vaccinated against rabies.
"We advise people first and foremost to make sure their pet cats and dogs are currently vaccinated for rabies," House said. "If they do happen to notice a wild animal acting unusually - normally nocturnal animals that are found out during the day, or animals having odd behavior like extreme aggression, if they're circling, appear drunk or have lost their fear of humans — they should contact animal control or their local health department."
House advised against trying to contain such an animal, saying that job should be left to the experts.
From Jan. 1 through June 27, 2014, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment recorded 37 cases of rabies in animals; 17 of those were bats, 18 were skunks and two were cats. Weld County, with 12 cases, had the largest number of infections.
Both cats were in Yuma County, and included a domestic indoor/outdoor cat that bit and scratched its owner after it had been exposed to rabies in late May. The owner reportedly underwent a lengthy rabies post-exposure treatment series and was confined to home for 45 days.
Rabies is a disease that affects the nervous system. If not treated, it is almost always fatal. While rabies vaccination laws for pets have greatly reduced the occurrence of rabies among people and domestic animals, wild animals like skunks, raccoons, bats and foxes still are susceptible to it.