Prevent Animal-borne (Zoonotic) Disease

As fall arrives, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) reminds community members that the risk of contracting certain animal-borne diseases remains.  SJBPH stresses the importance of controlling the presence of rodents and mosquitoes around homes as well as wearing insect repellant and appropriate clothing when heading outdoors. Additionally, keep your pets up to date on vaccinations, and protect your pets from fleas and ticks. Do not handle or feed wild animals, especially those that appear sick, and do not touch dead animals or animal waste. Remember to speak to your children about these precautions.


Plague is a serious, life-threatening 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. People get plague from bites of infected fleas, by touching infected animals, and by inhaling droplets from the cough of an infected person or animal, especially sick cats. SJBPH investigates prairie dog population die-offs for the presence of plague. Community members can report a suspected die-off to SJBPH.

West Nile Virus

West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes and can be passed on to humans through mosquito bites. This disease can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). Remember to use insect repellent (containing DEET, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus) 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.


Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. People contract rabies from the bite of a rabies-infected animal (rabid animal). It is important to avoid touching wildlife and to keep your pets up to date on rabies vaccinations. If you have had a bat in your room while you were sleeping, it is important to trap the bat and have it tested for rabies. If it is not tested, costly rabies post-exposure treatment may be recommended. Please call SJBPH for further guidance or to report an encounter with a suspect animal.


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 and humans may contract hantavirus by breathing in the contaminated air. Before cleaning up droppings be sure to wear a mask, ventilate the room by opening windows and doors, and spray down all droppings with a bleach solution (one part bleach, nine parts water) before vacuuming or sweeping.


Tularemia is found in rodent rabbit populations and is transmitted by insect bites, direct transmission, or inhalation and/or ingestion of the bacteria. The infective dose is very small and can persist for long periods of time in water, soil, and carcasses.  To avoid contracting tularemia;

When mowing or landscaping:

  • Don’t mow over sick or dead animals. When possible, check the area for carcasses prior to mowing.
  • Use of masks during mowing and other landscaping activities may reduce your risk of inhaling the bacteria, but this has not been confirmed.
  • If you hunt, trap or skin animals:
  • Use gloves when handling animals, especially rabbits, muskrats, prairie dogs, and other rodents.
  • Cook game meat thoroughly before eating.

Tick Borne Diseases

Tick-borne Relapsing Fever is a bacterial infection that is spread by multiple tick species and is linked to sleeping in rustic, rodent-infested cabins in mountainous areas. It is characterized by recurring episodes of fever, headache, muscle and joint aches and nausea. The illness is treated with antibiotics with high effectiveness.

Colorado tick fever is the most common tick-borne disease in Colorado, though most cases go unreported. It’s a viral illness characterized by fever, headache, body aches, nausea, abdominal pain and lethargy. Complete recovery may take two to three weeks. The disease is not life-threatening and infection results in lifelong immunity. There’s currently no preventative vaccine or effective treatment except to let the disease run its course.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a serious disease that’s transmitted by infected Rocky Mountain wood ticks. Symptoms include sudden onset of high fever, headache, chills, and muscle aches. A rash often appears a few days later. Prompt medical attention is extremely important because Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be fatal if treatment is delayed. The illness can be cured with antibiotics.

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


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