Be Aware of Disease Carried by Wildlife

June 15, 2022 Pueblo, CO– Public Health Officials in Pueblo alerted residents of summertime illnesses, including those carried by wildlife and insects to protect themselves.

Rabies, tularemia, Plague, and West Nile virus are found in Pueblo County, especially during the summer. These diseases can be carried by insects and wildlife to people.

“Rabies and Tularemia have been identified in Pueblo County by public health this past month,” said Alicia Solis program manager at the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment. Public Health is monitoring the County to identify areas and notify residents in areas of concern.

Tularemia is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which commonly infects rabbits. “In previous years, we have seen tularemia widespread in rabbits in Pueblo West,” stated Solis.

Plague, a potentially serious illness, is caused by a bacterium called Yersina pestis. It is usually passed from animal to animal by infected fleas and is often seen to have devastating effects on prairie dog colonies. The hungry infected fleas, who have lost their normal hosts, seek other sources of blood, thus increasing the risk to humans and other animals frequenting the area. Please report the die off of prairie dogs to public health by calling 719-583-4307 or emailing [email protected].

People can get tularemia and plague in a few of the same ways:

  • being bitten by an infected tick, flea, or deerfly
  • handling infected animal carcasses                                                                            

“It is important for pet owners to keep their animals from roaming free as they can be exposed to tularemia and plague,” stated Solis. “Ensure your pets have flea and tick protection. Do not let them eat dead animals. If your pet stops eating or drinking or develops other symptoms, take the pet to the veterinarian promptly.”

Symptoms of tularemia and plague in humans usually occur 2-7 days after exposure and may include:

  • sudden fever
  • chills
  • headaches
  • muscle aches 
  • cough
  • progressive weakness                         


Other symptoms of tularemia and plague depend on how a person was exposed to the bacteria. These symptoms can include pneumonia, ulcers on the skin or mouth, swollen and painful lymph glands, and a sore throat.

Tularemia is not spread from person to person so those who are infected do not need to be isolated. People who have been exposed to tularemia or plague should be treated as soon as possible. These diseases can be fatal if not treated with the right antibiotics.

Rabies, similarly, cannot be spread person to person, yet commonly by bats, skunks and foxes in Pueblo County. Rabies is caused by a virus transmitted by the bite of an infected animal. Rabies also can be transmitted if the infected animal’s saliva gets into a cut or break in the skin or through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Symptoms of rabies can include fever, agitation, abnormal behavior, seizures, and paralysis. Treatment should begin before onset of symptoms. Once symptoms begin, treatments are ineffective, and rabies is usually fatal.

“Never touch or handle a bat or wild animal,” stated Solis.

Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment recommends the following:

  • Avoid all contact with wild animals; do not feed or handle them.
  • Never touch sick or dead animals with your bare hands. If an animal must be moved, wearing gloves use a long-handled shovel to place it in a garbage bag. Place the bag in an outdoor garbage can and then wash your hands.
  • Wear gloves and closed-toe shoes when gardening.
  • Do not mow over dead animals.
  • Avoid ticks and fleas. Wear insect repellent containing DEET or treat clothing with repellent containing permethrin, especially if in rodent infested areas like prairie dog colonies.
  • Avoid drinking unpurified water from streams or lakes and prevent your pets from doing the same.
  • Apply flea/tick protection to pets.
  • Prevent pets from hunting or eating wild animals.

Solis also advised all individuals to protect themselves from West Nile virus by following the Four D’s:

  1. DRAIN: Eliminate standing water in tires or similar water-holding containers as these may serve as mosquito breeding sites. Change the water in birdbaths, empty tires or flowerpots, at least weekly.
  2. DUSK AND DAWN: Avoid outdoor activities, such as gardening, at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
  3. DEET: Picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus are also effective ingredients to look for in insect repellents.  Always follow label instructions for application.
  4. DRESS: If outside during the periods when mosquitoes are most active, cover up by wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes and socks.

Additional information is available on the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment website or by calling (719) 583-4307.