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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Florida Department of Health promoting rabies awareness

The Florida Department of Health in Marion County is promoting rabies awareness to educate the community on how to reduce the risk of exposure.

Rabies is a virus that is typically spread by exposure to saliva from an infected animal, and the virus is almost always fatal once symptoms start.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), five people in the United States passed away from rabies complications last year. This was the highest total of reported rabies-related deaths in the last decade.

The Florida Department of Health in Marion County (FDOHMC) is calling attention to this CDC report since county health officials respond daily to a large volume of animal bites that could potentially lead to a rabies infection, if not properly addressed.

Marion County reported just over 54 cases of possible rabies exposure per 100,000 residents in 2019. That was the sixth-highest rate among Florida’s 67 counties.

In 2020 and 2021, FDOHMC investigated a total of 2,135 reports of potential rabies exposures in Marion County. In most of these cases, the victims did not require any treatment because the animal did not show symptoms after a quarantine period, the animal tested negative after a postmortem examination, or the animal was not considered to be a carrier of the virus.

FDOHMC was notified that 462 of those people were determined to be at risk from a potential rabies exposure and they were advised to obtain post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment. PEP is a series of shots that are administered to build up the patient’s immunity.

According to FDOHMC, PEP is recommended when the animal tests positive for rabies, or when testing the animal is not possible.

Dogs are often the animals most associated with rabies, but canine-related rabies infections are rare in Florida due to a high vaccination rate among dogs. The most common carriers of rabies are raccoons, bats, and cats (typically feral cats).

FDOHMC has also previously initiated investigations for possible rabies exposure because of human contact with squirrels, foxes, rats, rabbits, pigs, horses, opossums, goats, deer, coyotes, and bears.

The following precautions are recommended by FDOHMC to help prevent possible rabies infection:

  • Avoid direct contact with wild animals. Never feed wild or stray animals, even by providing outdoor food sources.
  • Supervise pets and do not allow them to run free. Secure all livestock on the premises.
  • Get all pets and at-risk livestock vaccinated against rabies.
  • Realize that rabies is not only transmitted through bites. People or animals can contract rabies through scratches or exposure to an infected animal’s saliva, such as from licks or a pet that has shared a food source with a positive carrier.
  • If any pets or livestock are attacked by a wild animal or a stray that is suspected to be unvaccinated, wear gloves when examining those pets or livestock. Do not let them contact other animals or people until the situation is handled by animal control or FDOHMC staff.
  • Bat-proof your home.

If anyone is bitten or scratched by an animal whose rabies status is unknown, FDOHMC recommends washing the area with soap and water. Control the bleeding, if any, and seek medical attention immediately.

The CDC reported that four of the five individuals who passed away in 2021 did not receive PEP treatment because they either feared vaccines or did not think the injury was serious enough for medical attention.

Any possible exposure to rabies should be reported to FDOHMC, the county’s Animal Services Department, or local law enforcement.

FDOHMC can administer the rabies vaccine to individuals who were exposed to rabid or potentially rabid animals.

For more information on rabies and prevention, visit the Florida Department of Health in Marion County and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites.