‘Rodents Are Waking Up And Bringing Disease’

BOULDER COUNTY, CO—While most people remain focused on the coronavirus, wildlife like skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, rabbits, and rodents are having babies; bats are beginning their spring migration; and mosquitoes are establishing their breeding sites in standing water.

According to Boulder County Public Health officials, along with this burst of wildlife is the possibility of the spread of animal-borne diseases, including rabies, plague, tularemia, hantavirus, and West Nile virus (WNV), which can all be dangerous to humans and pets.

“A record setting season of snowfall, warm days, and the annual increase in vegetation can cause local rodent and rabbit populations to increase,” said Carol McInnes, Boulder County Public Health environmental health specialist. “When these animal populations are high, we often see outbreaks of disease in prairie dog colonies, rodents, and rabbits in neighborhoods.”

In addition, Culex mosquitoes (i.e. the mosquito that carries WNV) increase in number as temperatures rise, county health officials said.

“While you are staying at home and practicing social distancing, consider using the time to tidy up outside your home and make sure your pets are up-to-date on their vaccinations. And when you’re out getting some fresh air, remember to leave wildlife alone,” said Carol Helwig, Boulder County Public Health Communicable Disease Control program coordinator. “We are so fortunate to live in a place where we can enjoy the outdoors in such close proximity to wildlife. But let’s maintain “social distance” from wildlife to keep our families and pets healthy and safe.”

According to Boulder County Public Health, residents can take a few simple steps to keep their pets and families free from disease:

  • TIDY UP your property, clear the areas where rodents and rabbits can hide and multiply in numbers, and keep bird and pet food away from areas that can be visited by rodents. Drain or remove items that can collect water where mosquitoes can breed. Take care when cleaning or sweeping areas that may be rodent-infested. Be particularly careful not to breathe in particles in areas where there is evidence of an active mouse infestation, such as in and around buildings or in nearby wood or junk piles.

  • STAY OUT of areas inhabited by wild rodents. If you must be in areas that include wild rodents, wear insect repellent containing DEET, and dress in long sleeves and pants.

  • DON’T TOUCH wild rodents, including squirrels (whether healthy, sick, or dead) and rabbits; do not feed or handle them. If a dead animal must be moved, use a long-handled shovel to place them in a garbage bag, and place the bag in an outdoor garbage can.

  • PREVENT your pets from hunting or eating wild rodents or rabbits. The best protection for pets, especially cats, is to keep them indoors. If outdoors with your pets, keep them out of heavily wooded areas, as those areas are ideal places for ticks. Use flea and tick collars and other prevention measures for your pets.

  • WEAR closed shoes in areas where animals have been seen sick or dead. Do not mow over animal carcasses, and use an N-95 or N-100 dust mask when mowing or doing landscape work. Also, make sure that you wear insect repellent.

  • VACCINATE your pets for rabies. Rabies is always fatal unless it is treated before any symptoms appear. Dogs, cats, kittens, and puppies should never come into contact with any wildlife until a month after receiving their first rabies vaccination. Wildlife live in urban and rural areas throughout Boulder County. Treatment for rabies exposure involves a series of vaccinations for people.

  • SEE A HEALTH CARE PROVIDER if you become ill after spending time near wildlife.

  • CONTACT A VETERINARIAN if your pet becomes ill after spending time near wildlife.

  • TEACH YOUR CHILDREN to never touch wildlife – dead or alive.

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This article originally appeared on the Boulder Patch

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