WELD COUNTY, Colo. — Health officials are warning the public about the dangers of trying to help wild animals after a woman who rescued a baby raccoon exposed 21 people in south Weld County to rabies.
According to a release Monday from the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment, the woman took the raccoon into her care after finding it on her property. Its mother had abandoned the animal.
Health officials said that during its time with the unidentified Weld County woman, the raccoon was in contact with 21 people. That contact later became a serious health concern when the raccoon tested positive for rabies.
Rachel Freeman, the health communication supervisor of the Weld County Health Department, says health officials were alerted after the woman contacted an animal shelter to see if it would take in the raccoon.
The exposure is being called the largest in Weld County history. But it’s unclear what steps were taken to limit the risk of infection to the 21 people who were in contact with the rabid raccoon. The release from the health department did not mention any human cases.
According to the Weld County Heath Department, rabies is a disease caused by a virus that affects the nervous system. Rabies causes swelling of the brain and spinal cord and is fatal in both humans and animals. It is spread in saliva through the bite of an infected animal.
To prevent exposure to rabies:
- Leave orphaned animals alone. Baby animals often appear to be orphaned when they are not. The parent animal may not return if people are too close.
- Do not feed, touch or handle wild animals and be cautious of stray dogs and cats
- Have dogs, cats, horses, and livestock vaccinated regularly by a licensed veterinarian
If you do find a wild animal that appears to be sick, injured or orphaned, contact your local Animal Control Officer, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, or a local veterinary office before attempting to move it.