More than 900 cases of the potentially deadly rabies have been reported this year in Colorado, its health department announced Wednesday, and they’re mostly concentrated in three of the state’s sprawling northern counties.
Forty people, including three pets, have been confirmed to have been exposed to the fatal disease that can be spread from bat to bat or human to person and then to other people. Three of the cases are fatal and another 13 people are being monitored. Officials say further cases are possible because infected bats can be asymptomatic.
Rabies was declared endemic to Colorado for the first time last year, and infected bats and rabies have been widespread in the state for years.
The surge in cases comes at a time when officials are trying to curtail the spread of disease to wildlife. Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s wildlife disease program director, Scott Morris, told the Denver Post that if residents haven’t already helped by deterring squirrels and raccoons from aggressive behaviors such as chasing dogs, they should do so now.
Cory Olsen, a wildlife disease program technician for CPW in Breckenridge, told the paper that it’s crucial for people to prevent encounters with raccoons, skunks and other bats.
“When you see a bat, try to stop it from leaving a nest, don’t let it into your house,” Olsen said. “If you come across a bat in the wild, either do not handle it or wash it to try to get rid of the bat rabies virus. Once the virus is in your mouth, it can’t be removed or removed. It stays in your body.”
CPW provided this map of Colorado counties with cases of rabies: