The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment announced yesterday that a skunk found close to the foothills west of Fort Collins tested positive for rabies. The skunk was tested both locally and by the CDC in Atlanta and confirmed to have the skunk variant of rabies, the first time this type of rabies has been confirmed in a populated area of Larimer County.

The skunk was found in the area of LaPorte Avenue, about a mile west of Overland Trail, close to the foothills, in an enclosed area that pets and pedestrians would not be able to access. [The skunk was not found in the community of Laporte, which is about 3 miles north] The closest residences are about a mile away. The skunk appeared to have been mauled by a large animal, possibly a coyote, bobcat, or mountain lion, which might have become infected in the attack. The Foothills Trail on the east ridge overlooking Horsetooth Reservoir is about a half mile west of this area. Hikers in the foothills and natural areas are cautioned to keep their distance from all skunks and wild predators, and ALWAYS keep their dogs on leashes.

Unvaccinated dogs and cats that come into contact with a rabid animal will either need to be euthanized or vaccinated and quarantined at a veterinary facility for 90 days, followed by another 90 days of home quarantine, which can be very expensive. Pets who behind in their vaccinations must be vaccinated and quarantined at home for 90 days. Fully vaccinated pets need a booster and 45 days of observation at home. There is no cure for rabies.

To lower your or your pets’ exposure to rabies, the Health Department recommends the following:

· Vaccinate dogs, cats, and ferrets as recommended by your veterinarian; make sure they are up-to-date on their shots. Animals too young to be vaccinated should be kept indoors. Talk to your large animal vet about vaccinating horses and livestock.

· Leash your pets when they accompany you on a walk in your neighborhood or in parks, the foothills, or open spaces. Pets who roam freely have an increased chance of an encounter with a wild animal and could be exposed to rabies without your knowledge.

· Feed your pets indoors, and bring your pets inside at night. Do not leave pet food outdoors or leave livestock feed containers open in sheds or barns.

· Do not feed, touch or handle wild animals and be cautious of stray dogs and cats

· Teach children not to touch either live or dead wildlife (including bats) and to tell you when they have been bitten or scratched by a pet.

· Call the Larimer Humane Emergency Animal Control line at 970-226-3647, Ext. 7, if you see a potentially rabid animal or have a pet that may have been exposed. Also contact your veterinarian without delay if you suspect direct contact between your pet or livestock and a potentially rabid animal.

· Call your doctor or visit an emergency room immediately if you are bitten or scratched by an animal that seems sick or threatening.

Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. The virus is transmitted through contact with the saliva of infected animals. Vaccination is available to prevent the development of rabies, but only if given soon after exposure. There is no cure for rabies, and it is almost always fatal in both humans and animals.

Signs that an animal might have rabies include: both aggressive behavior or unexpectedly tame behavior in a wild animal; difficulty walking and unstable movements; walking in circles; unusual vocal noises. A skunk that is moving about during the day should be suspected of being sick.