What is rabies?
Rabies is a viral infection of the nervous system. When left untreated, an exposure to the rabies virus is almost always fatal. Each year rabies kills more than 50,000 people and millions of animals around the world.
Is rabies a problem everywhere?
Rabies is a big problem in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. In the United States, rabies has been reported in every state except Hawaii.
Who gets rabies?
Any warm blooded animal can get rabies. Raccoons, bats, domestic cats, foxes, bobcats, skunks, and otters are the animals most often found infected with rabies in Florida. Rabies can also infect coyotes, wolves, dogs, ferrets, horses, farm animals, other animals, and humans. Reptiles and fish do not get rabies.
How does an animal or person get rabies?
At the end of the rabies virus infection, a rabid animal or human secretes the virus in their saliva (spit). Another animal or human can be infected if the rabid animal bites or scratches them or if virus laden saliva immediately contacts a mucous membrane or broken skin. The virus will also be found in other tissues of the rabid animal. A person with sores or cuts on their hands can be infected while butchering an infected animal. Hunters should wear rubber gloves and eye protection when handling and butchering any wild mammal.
How do you know if an animal has rabies?
Animals may secrete the rabies virus in their saliva before they have symptoms of the disease. Wild animals may move slowly or act as if they are tame. They may seem “drunk.” Rabid animals may also be aggressive and try to attack or bite. Some signs of rabies in animals are:
- changes in behavior
- general sickness
- problems swallowing
- increase drooling
- a nocturnal animal out in the daytime
- loss of coordination and staggering or falling over
How can I avoid rabies?
- If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, wash the wound immediately with soap and water. If the animal is wild or a stray, call animal control or 911 and report the animal’s location. Seek medical attention as needed. Report all bites to the Florida Department of Health in Bay County rabies control program at 850-872-4455.
- Keep your pets currently vaccinated for rabies by a licensed veterinarian.
- Do not handle wild or stray animals. Never touch a bat!
- If you see a wild or stray animal that is acting aggressively or strange, call the animal control agency for your area.
- Do not feed raccoons! Feeding raccoons is illegal. Do not leave pet food outside and keep your garbage securely covered to avoid attracting raccoons and other wildlife to your home.
- Get your pets spayed or neutered. Pets that are fixed are less likely to leave home, become strays, and make more stray animals.
- Discuss rabies with your children.
- Supervise your pets when outdoors. Pets may be exposed to rabies if they fight with a wild animal. If your cat or dog brings home a bat, the bat should be tested for rabies. If your pet fights with a raccoon, fox, or other high risk rabies vector, the wild animal should be tested for rabies. Never shoot an animal which may need to be tested in the head. Keep dead animals which may need to be tested cold and call (850) 872-4455 for more information. If the wild animal cannot be tested or tests positive, your pet will need to be quarantined for either 45 or 180 days, depending on its vaccination status.
- Bats! If you find a bat in the room of a sleeping person or have any physical contact with a bat, call your area’s animal control agency or the Florida Department of Health in Bay County at (850) 872-4455.
Can rabies be prevented?
Yes! If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, wash the wound immediately with soap and water. If the animal is wild or a stray, call animal control or 911 and report the animal’s location. Seek medical attention as needed. Report all bites to the Florida Department of Health in Bay County rabies control program at 850-872-4455.
If the animal that bit or scratched you can be identified, it will either be sent for rabies testing (wild animals) or quarantined (cats, dogs, farm animals and ferrets).
If the animal cannot be quarantined or tested, or tests positive for rabies, you may need to receive rabies vaccinations. Rabies vaccinations are given as a series of shots spaced over a couple of weeks. Two types of medication (HRIG and vaccine) are given the first day of shots and then one small shot is given in the arm on each of the 3rd, 7th, and 14th days of treatment. You may need an additional vaccination if you are immune compromised or take some steroidal medications. Rabies shots are only given in the abdomen if you are bitten in the abdomen.
Can I wait until I have symptoms to seek treatment for an exposure to rabies?
No! Once a person has symptoms of rabies, their brain is already infected and they will probably die. Rabies vaccinations are only effective when given well before the onset of symptoms.
Who should get pre-exposure rabies vaccinations?
Besides your pets, any person in an occupation that places them at high risk for exposure to the rabies virus should receive rabies pre-exposure vaccinations. Some of these occupations are animal control officers, veterinarians, and veterinary technicians. Pre-exposure rabies vaccinations are also recommended for people traveling to some foreign countries. Visit http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list.htm for more information.
Animal Control Agencies
Bay County Animal Control (850) 784-4005
Lynn Haven Animal Control (850) 265-1112
Panama City Beach Animal Control (850) 233-5000
Mexico Beach Animal Control (850) 648-5984
*Some items adapted from the CDC web site by the Florida Department of Health in Bay County.