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Rabies: know the signs

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Recently, a man was attacked by a rabid fox in the Broadlake View neighborhood near the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

"The resident was attempting to protect his dog," said Danielle Oller, El Paso County Public Health Department communication specialist. In addition to foxes, skunks and bats have tested positive for rabies in the Colorado Springs area. The bottom line is that rabies is a threat in local wild animals and citizens should maintain a safe distance.

Rabies is a serious zoonotic disease (transmitted from animals to humans) caused by a virus that infects the nervous system. If left untreated, the virus will travel from the infection site to the brain and spinal cord and quickly progress. Once clinical signs such as fever and vomiting appear, the disease is almost always fatal.

Rabies is most prominent in wild animals. However, it can also be found in domestic animals such as dogs and cats. For this reason, it is essential to keep pet rabies vaccinations up to date.

Small mammals such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rabbits, and hares are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States. Bites by these animals are usually not considered a risk of rabies unless the animal was sick or behaving in an unusual manner and rabies is endemic in your area.

Rabies in humans is 100 percent preventable through prompt, appropriate medical care. Yet more than 55,000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, die from rabies every year.

Treat all animal bites as if the animal has been infected with rabies; immediately wash the area with soap and water and seek medical attention. Contact local animal control so they can quarantine and send the animal for rabies testing if possible. Your health care provider is the only one who can determine the proper treatment for you based on your incident-specific circumstances.

Treatment for rabies includes a fast-acting shot (human rabies immune globulin) to prevent the virus from infecting you. This injection is given near the area where the animal bit you promptly after the bite. Additionally, a series of four rabies vaccines will also be given to you to help your body learn to identify and fight the rabies virus. Rabies vaccines are given as injections in the arm.

If you observe a sick or diseased animal on base, contact Civil Engineering at 556-4030. Off base observances should be reported to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 227-5200. For additional information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/.

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