Prevent animal-borne disease

By Claire Macpherson
Special to The PREVIEW

San Juan Basin Health reminds residents that, as summer approaches, so does the risk of contracting certain animal-borne diseases like rabies, West Nile virus, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, plague and Colorado tick fever. All are diseases that can be carried by various animals and insects and then transmitted to humans.

These infections are more common during warm weather months when humans and animals are frequently in close contact. People tend to spend more time outdoors where wild animals and insects are active. A few precautions go a long way toward preventing animal-borne disease.

San Juan Basin Health recommends that everyone control the presence of rodents and mosquitoes around their home and when heading outdoors, particularly to areas where wild animals and insects are active, wear insect repellant, appropriate clothing and protect your pets from fleas and ticks. Do not to handle or feed wild animals, especially those that appear sick, and do not pick up dead animals or animal waste. Also, remember to talk with your children about these precautions.


Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. People get rabies from the bite of a rabies-infected animal (rabid animal). Any wild mammal, such as raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote or bat, can have rabies and transmit it to people through a bite. It is also possible, although rare, for persons to get rabies when infectious material, such as saliva from a rabid animal, gets into an individual’s eyes, nose, mouth or open wound.

Bats are by far the most common carriers of rabies in Colorado and La Plata and Archuleta counties. Already in 2014, two people in southwest Colorado have had to receive the rabies post-exposure treatment due to contact with wildlife. To report an encounter with a suspect animal, please call San Juan Basin Health at 335-2077.


Plague is a disease caused by bacteria that can be transmitted to humans by the bites of infected fleas or by direct contact with infected animals. Plague is frequently detected in rock squirrels, prairie dogs, wood rats and other species of ground squirrels and chipmunks. San Juan Basin Health investigates prairie dog population die-offs for presence of plague. Community members can report a suspected die-off to San Juan Basin Health at 335-2077 or 335-2053.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease. Hantavirus is carried by wild rodents, particularly deer mice, and is present in their droppings, urine and saliva. Dried droppings or urine can be stirred up in dust; humans may get hantavirus by breathing in the contaminated air. Hantavirus has not been shown to infect other kinds of animals, such as dogs, cats or farm animals. The disease is not contagious and does not spread from human to human.

West Nile virus

This disease is carried by mosquitoes and can be passed on to humans through the familiar mosquito bite. West Nile virus can cause encephalitis or inflammation of the brain and lining of the brain and spinal cord. There were eight confirmed cases in the southwest region last year. Remember to use insect repellent when going outdoors. Also, help reduce the number of mosquitos around your home by emptying standing water from flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pet water dishes, discarded tires and birdbaths on a regular basis.

Colorado tick fever

Colorado tick fever is caused by a virus that thrives in the environment through a rodent-tick-rodent cycle. The virus can be transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected Rocky Mountain wood tick. Ticks emerge in the mountains of Colorado in late March and are present throughout the summer, with the peak season occurring in late May through June.

To learn about the symptoms, treatments and information about these diseases and more, visit Information is also available from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at

This story was posted on June 19, 2014.