A mule in Eagle County Colorado has been euthanized after contracting the bat variant of rabies. According to information provided to the Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC) by the state veterinarian's office, the 7-year-old mule developed clinical signs of rabies, including fever, weakness and inability to stand, on January 15.
Usually transmitted through the bite of an infected animal, rabies is invariably fatal—the virus ravages the equine nervous system and there is no cure. In fact, rabies has the highest mortality rate of any infectious disease—functionally 100 percent since euthanasia is the only option once signs of illness appear. And reservoirs of rabies virus continue to exist in the wild, causing periodic outbreaks of the disease that pose a risk to both wild and domesticated animals.
Click here to learn more about rabies in horses and mules.
The earliest stages of rabies can be confused with other diseases, particularly those with a neurological component, such as equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) or West Nile encephalitis. Misdiagnosis is more likely to occur if the bite wound goes undetected. Within a few days, however, the rapidly spreading paralysis makes it clear something more sinister is at work.
Two animals on the Colorado property were potentially exposed, but rabies was confirmed only in the mule, who was unvaccinated. After an investigation by state authorities, the remaining livestock on the premises were placed under quarantine. According to the EDCC this is the first case of rabies in domestic livestock in Colorado this year and the first case of rabies in an equine in Colorado since 2013.
The best way to protect your horse from rabies is through annual vaccinations. The American Association of Equine Practitioners classifies rabies as a core vaccine, which means it is recommended for all horses regardless of life stage, lifestyle or location. Currently, three licensed rabies vaccines are available for horses; all are killed-virus products administered annually to mature horses.
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