Twenty-one people in Colorado were exposed to rabies after a woman brought a baby raccoon into her house and showed it to her friends, officials said.
A woman in Weld County found the raccoon after it had been abandoned by its mother.
By the time the raccoon was tested for rabies, 21 family and friends had been exposed to it.
Twenty of those people asked to see the raccoon after the woman spread the word about it, according to Rachel Freeman, the communications supervisor at the Weld County Health Department.
“It’s unusual to see that,” Freeman told the Greeley Tribune. “This was a baby wild animal, so I think there was some heightened interest in seeing a baby animal in the home.”
Later, the woman contacted an animal shelter in the county, hoping it would rehabilitate the raccoon. The shelter was unable to accept the animal and administrators there contacted the department, which contacted the woman and asked if the raccoon could be tested for rabies.
Officials noted that this year appears to be one for high rabies exposure in animals.
“It is very important that people not touch or go near wild animals,” said Mark Wallace, executive director of the Weld County Health Department, in a statement.
“We’re not just seeing typical skunk or bat rabies this year,” added Wallace. “We’re concerned about the growing number of cases among other animals such as raccoons and cats.”
Anyone who spots a wild animal that appears to be sick, injured, or orphaned, they should contact local animal control officers to deal with it and not approach it themselves.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rabies is a viral disease most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. Most of the cases reported to agency officials involve wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, and bats.
“The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort,” the agency stated.
“As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.”
In the Colorado case, officials said all 21 people are being treated but none have confirmed rabies.