Adams County, Colorado horse contracts rabies

The 12-year-old Miniature horse was euthanatized earlier this month.

A Miniature Horse in Adams County, Colorado tested positive for rabies and has been euthanatized. According to information from the Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC), the unvaccinated 12-year-old horse developed a mild fever, became depressed, weak and developed neurologic signs in late May. On June 3 he was euthanatized. 

Shortly after, a skunk that was “acting strangely” was found on the same property. The skunk was captured, tested positive for rabies and was euthanatized according to a joint news release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Department of Agriculture.

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.

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.

This is the second case of rabies in domestic livestock in Colorado this year. The first case was in a mule in January.

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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