South Denver sees spike in rabies cases

Animals having difficulty walking can be a symptom of disease


An uptick of rabies cases has Denver Animal Protection keeping a close eye on skunks in Denver. In 2018, Denver Animal protection has picked up 66 skunks in south Denver that tested positive for rabies. Last year only 12 skunks tested positive for rabies across the city.

Sgt. Joshua Rolfe with Denver Animal Protection has been with the department since 2010. The number of cases is the highest in recent memory, he said, but some of that may be due to a change in how animals are processed.

For the first time, Denver Animal Protection sent every case of rabies back to a lab for testing this year, whether it had contact with humans or not, Rolfe said.

“We respond out to any sick and injured wildlife in this city, and then the biggest deciding (factor) on whether or not we feel it’s serious is whether it’s had contact with people or domestic animals,” he said.

Outbreaks of rabies tend to happen in cycles, Rolfe said. He estimated that animals tend to contract the disease in larger numbers every few years.

“Statewide, it’s usually localized to some sort of geographical area,” he said.

Animals that have contracted rabies will stumble around like a “walking seizure,” Rolfe said. If an animal falls over and has difficulty standing back up, it could be a sign of rabies. As the disease progresses so will the animal’s symptoms.

“The foaming at the mouth certainly is an indicator it’s usually late-stage rabies,” Rolfe said.

Animals start as disoriented and then tend to become more aggressive as their rabies progresses.

People should report animals acting strangely to 311. Denver Animal Protection will then go and investigate. Rolfe added that people should not interact with the animal, and should keep pets and children away from them.

“Feed your pets indoors. Don’t lay out food and leave it all day because that will attract wildlife into the area.”

While most of the affected wildlife has been skunks, Rolfe said animal protection officers have seen a few raccoons that have contracted rabies as well. To avoid contact with raccoons, he said people need to make sure garbage cans are tightly sealed.

If people or pets do come into contact with a sick animal, Rolfe said it is better not to take any chances.

“Even if there’s suspected contact with a wild animal or an animal that may have rabies, follow up with your primary care physician right away,” he said.

A post-exposure vaccine for humans does exist, he said.


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