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Rabies Is On The Rise

236 Animals Confirmed In Denver So Far This Year

Rabies is real! Why am I writing that with the exclamation point? There are many things that can be a pet peeve for veterinarians, but my latest has been the increasing frequency of pushback or disregard from many owners, cat and dog, regarding vaccinating their pet against rabies. Rabies vaccination is required in all cats and dogs in all municipalities and counties in Colorado by the State of Colorado.

Colorado is endemic for bat rabies. As of July, 16, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) reported three confirmed cases of bat rabies in Denver, along with 68 cases of rabid skunks. By contrast, in all of 2017, CDPHE confirmed only 21 cases of skunk rabies in Denver. The total confirmed rabies cases for all species in 2017 were 165. So far this year – between January and July 16 – there have been 236 animals confirmed with rabies. That’s nearly a three-fold increase.

Rabies is a terminal disease if contracted by a susceptible mammal, humans included. And, rabies is a worldwide disease from which more than 60,000 people die each year.

Human death rates in the United States are low due to vaccinations in dogs, cats and quick-to-respond public health officials. However, the Centers for Disease Control reported that in 2016 more than 40,000 people in the U.S. went through rabies post-exposure prophylaxis treatment at an estimated cost of $500 million public health dollars. That’s 40,000 too many.

The rough cost for an individual’s treatment is $3,000 and includes a course of rabies immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine given over a two-week period. Having been a guinea pig for a new rabies vaccine trial for FDA final approval using a post-exposure response protocol when in veterinary school, I can tell you that four rabies vaccines given in a 21-day window was awful. It included huge, painful lymph nodes as the immune system mounted its proper response – and that was without the rabies immune globulin.

Currently, 21 people are undergoing rabies post-exposure prophylaxis in Weld County after exposure to a baby raccoon brought into a home.And, just prior to putting fingers on the keyboard, we had an owner report that their cat killed a bat in their Park Hill home. The bat was alive when the cat presented its prezzie and the body is now being sent for rabies testing. Animal Control and CDPHE will be monitoring closely until the rabies results are known. If the cat was previously unvaccinated, Animal Control has the option to either quarantine the pet for observation or consider euthanasia and testing the pet for rabies afterward, as the only part of the body that can be tested for rabies is the brain. (Our patient was current on its rabies vaccination and merely needed to be re-boostered.

Given all this information, what can you do?

1. Keep your pets vaccinated and current on their rabies vaccinations. The vaccines are safe and effective – very rare for reactions (<0.005%). Rabies titer tests are not accepted by any municipality in the U.S. as proof of vaccination per federal and state regulations.

2. Do not handle mammalian wildlife, dead or alive – particularly bats, skunks and raccoons. Instead, call Animal Control for assistance at 720-913-1311.

Dr. Margot can be reached at

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