Health officials are warning about a sharp increase in the number of rabies cases in El Paso County. Some 28 skunks have been reported with the disease this year, a number that ties all of the recorded rabies cases in 2017.
The sudden spike is alarming to veterinarian Clinton Unruh at Colorado Equine Veterinary Services.
"We had a client just this past week that has it on video that their horse was attacked by a skunk in the middle of the night, which is really abnormal behavior for a skunk," Dr. Unruh said.
The horse had previously been vaccinated, but it will still have to undergo a mandatory 45 day observation period. Rabies vaccines are mandatory for domestic pets like dogs and cats. However, they’re not required for horses and other large animals.
Doctor Unruh says they’re still a good idea to vaccinate horses especially because of the high number of cases this year.
"Definitely get your animals vaccinated. it’s one of the most effective vaccines that we have and it’s the least expensive."
Epidemiologist Shannon Rowe of El Paso County Public Health said that only rabid skunks have been detected so far. In addition to the growing number of infected animals, she points out that the skunks are appearing in areas much closer to people.
"The other bad news is that they’re now moving into the more populated parts of El Paso County."
Rabid skunks have been found as far north as Palmer Lake, as far south as Fountain and even in the middle of the city near the Village 7 neighborhood.
Rowe wants people to report a skunk if they see it acting abnormally, especially in areas near parks or schools where children will play.
"They are walking in circles, they are banging their head on the ground," Rowe said. "They’re out during the day, that’s a huge sign because skunks are nocturnal normally."
Horse owners can purchase and give rabies vaccines to their animals themselves. However, Doctor Unruh encourages horse owners to have a veterinarian administer that vaccine because the state veterinarians office will otherwise consider the animal unvaccinated.
Unvaccinated horses must undergo a mandatory 180 day observation period if they have an encounter with a rabid animal.