Jefferson County, Colo. — It’s summer in Colorado, and it’s the perfect time for Jeffco residents to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities. Whether you’re spending your days at cookouts, hiking or by the pool, Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) reminds you to make sure insects and animals don’t crash the party. In Colorado, there are several insect- and animal-borne diseases you need to know about so you can keep your summer safe, healthy and fun.
The most common of these diseases in Jeffco are rabies and West Nile Virus.
Rabies is a preventable viral disease most often transmitted through the bite or saliva of a rabid animal. When not treated, rabies can cause serious illness and is almost always fatal. It is important to take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones – furry friends included – against rabies. Rabies has been detected in most terrestrial wild animals and has been detected in unvaccinated cats and dogs in Colorado. Although any mammal can get rabies, bats and skunks test positive for rabies most often in Jefferson County every year.
How to prevent rabies:
- Vaccinate all cats, dogs, ferrets and valuable livestock against rabies. Keeping your pets up to date on their rabies vaccination will prevent them from acquiring the disease from wildlife, and thereby prevent possible transmission to your family or other people.
- Bats are found indoors every year so even your indoor cats, dogs and ferrets should be vaccinated for rabies.
- If you clean up your pet after a known or suspected encounter with a wild animal, you should cover all exposed skin with a long sleeve shirt and gloves, use a face mask to cover your mouth and nose, and safety glasses to protect your eyes.
- If bitten or scratched by a stray domestic animal or any wild animals, you should wash the wound with soap and water and contact your doctor about beginning the rabies Post-Exposure Prophylaxis.
- Do not handle or feed wildlife. Leave young wild animals alone. If you think an animal is abandoned, call your local animal control or the Colorado Department of Wildlife.
West Nile Virus is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes. West Nile Virus is found in Colorado every year. While most people have no symptoms at all, some people with the virus develop a fever, fatigue, headache and/or muscle and joint aches, which can progress to serious illness.
How to prevent West Nile Virus:
- Use an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent with an approved active ingredient, such as DEET. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
- You should choose the concentration of DEET in your bug spray that best fits the amount of time you’ll be spending outside. For example, if you’ll be spending five hours outside, choose an insect repellent with 25 percent DEET. If you’ll be spending less than an hour and a half, choose five percent DEET, because it lasts up to 90 minutes. Always follow instructions carefully.
- You can use a product containing up to 30 percent DEET on any child over two months of age, but don’t let them apply it themselves, and be sure everyone washes their hands well after application to prevent any of the insect repellent from getting in their eyes or mouths.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks to keep your skin protected from insects. You can also spritz your clothing with insect repellent, to increase how much it protects you. Plus, the more skin you cover, the more protection you have from the harmful UVA and UVB rays that can cause skin cancer.
- Get rid of standing water and brush around your home. Even an aluminum can or a planter saucer can hold enough water for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. Dump standing water out routinely.
Other diseases to know about:
- Tularemia is a bacterial disease that is spread to humans through the bites of infected ticks or direct exposure to infected mammals. Tularemia is also spread through deer fly bites or through handling infected animal tissue, such as when hunting or skinning rabbits or when eating under-cooked meat of an infected animal. The most common symptoms are fever, chills, headache, body aches and feeling tired, which can last up to several weeks. Highly contagious and potentially fatal, tularemia like plague usually can be treated effectively with specific antibiotics if diagnosed early.
- The bubonic plague is a bacterial disease that is spread by rodent fleas. People usually get plague from being bitten by a flea that is carrying the plague, or by handling an infected animal. Common symptoms are a sudden onset of severe discomfort, headache, chills, fever and pain in the lymph nodes. However, it’s important to note that plague cases are treatable in humans and household pets as long as caught early. While plague is rare in humans, we have seen cases in prairie dogs and squirrels in Jefferson County.
- Some mosquitoes can carry Zika, a virus that can be spread from mom to baby and cause birth defects. While the mosquitos that carry Zika do not live in Colorado, it’s important to protect yourself when traveling to areas like Mexico, the Caribbean and other areas of risk identified by the CDC. Symptoms of Zika are very similar to those of West Nile Virus.
“One of the most important things to remember here in Jeffco — as we live, work and play on the cusp of urban and mountain areas — is to let wildlife stay wild,” said Jessa Woodward, Environmental Health Supervisor at JCPH. “Keep your distance from wild animals, and if you come across an animal that seems to be sick, acting strangely or is in a place they should not be, like your backyard, do not touch them and contact your local animal control for further guidance.”
For more information about animal-borne and insect-borne diseases and how to stay safe this summer, visit our website or call JCPH at 303-271-5700.
About Jefferson County Public Health
Public health is what we do collectively to prevent illness and premature death and promote health in our neighborhoods and communities. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is a nationally accredited health department committed to promoting and protecting health across the lifespan for all people through prevention, education and partnerships. To learn more about JCPH visit https://www.jeffco.us/public-health. You can also follow JCPH on Twitter @JeffcoPH, Instagram @JeffcoPH and Facebook @jeffcopublichealth.