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Officials warn rabies risk on the rise in Colorado

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DENVER -- The number of rabies cases keeps climbing in Colorado -- and so does the concern.

A number of health agencies and animal shelters urge residents to vaccinate their dogs and cats -- and for good reason.

Last year, 88 animals tested positive for the almost-always fatal disease. Those animals exposed 113 domestic pets. The pace is to suprass those numbers this year.

Veterinarian Kristina Ingram couldn’t have imagined what she’d encounter while working at Community Pet Hospital in Thornton about two weeks ago.

“He was showing some neurologic signs, tremoring a little bit,” she said.

Ingram examined a 6-week-old puppy that ended up testing positive for rabies. It’s the first time wildlife has infected a dog in Colorado in more than 40 years.

“They have not had a contracted in-the-state canine rabies case since 1974,” she said.

A dog tested positive in Colorado 14 years ago, but it had come in from Texas.

“They asked, ‘How did he contract rabies?’ I said, ‘With a wildlife encounter a bite or scratch,” she told the family.

They told her a skunk had scratched the Australian shepherd mix and killed another puppy in Weld County.

Skunks are the biggest carrier of rabies this year. A Denver resident captured video of a rabid skunk May 3. It had been living beneath her porch.

Colorado Department of Health data show 38 skunks have tested positive for rabies this year, including 14 in Jefferson County. That is the most of any animal.

That’s followed by five bats testing positive in five counties.

All together in 16 counties, 48 animals have tested positive with seven months to go in the year.

“There’s nothing we can do. It’s fatal once the clinical signs start to show,” Ingram said.

She said the virus travels to the brain, killing the animal, and risks human lives, too. Pet owners realize vaccinating animals is the best defense for everyone in the family.

“It’s terrifying. This is a huge public health risk. All humans come in contact with it," Ingram said.

Foothills Animal Shelter offers affordable rabies vaccines every Friday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and the first Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

The Denver Animal Shelter offers a similar program.

And with summer nearing, the Jefferson County Health Department also reminds residents to protect themselves, not just against rabies, but West Nile virus, the plague and tick fever.