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Rabies and You 
 
RABIES IS A DEADLY DISEASE

It is caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system.

THE RABIES VIRUS LIVES IN THE SALIVA

It also lives in the brain tissue of infected animals. Rabies is fatal once the virus reaches the brain.

THE VIRUS IS SPREAD ONLY BY MAMMALS

Mammals are warm blooded animals who nurse their young. This means pets, livestock, wildlife and people are at risk! In the past dogs and cats were the most common animal infected by the rabies virus, however now because of the efforts of Animal Control and responsible pet owners only a few of these animals become infected each year. In poor countries dog rabies continues to be the number one threat in the transmission of rabies to humans.

RABIES IS MOST OFTEN SPREAD THROUGH EXPOSURE TO INFECTED ANIMALS

Exposure is defined as bites, scratches, infected saliva entering a wound and contact with mucous membranes. HOWEVER ,there have also been some cases of rabies involving NO known exposure! The vast majority of these cases involve bats. Health officials believe that because a bat's claws and teeth are so small it is hard for a person to determine whether or not they have been bitten or scratched. If you discover a bat in your home or should one fall on or collide with you, this should be treated as an exposure to rabies and report the incident immediately to Animal Control and your family physician.

The following are actual cases of human rabies that originated from bats:

  • In February 1995, the aunt of a 4 year old girl was awakened by the sounds of a bat in the room where the child was sleeping. The child did not wake up until the bat was captured, killed and disposed of. The girl reported no bite, and no evidence of a bite wound was found when she was examined. One month later the child became sick and died of rabies. The dead bat was recovered from the yard and tested.....it had rabies.

  • In December 1998, a 29 year old man died from a strain of rabies associated with eastern pipistrelle bats and silver haired bats. Family members and friends reported the patient had not indicated any contact with or bite from an animal in recent months, medical records did not document evidence of a bite or scratch. No history of an animal bite could be established for the patient and the most likely explanation is an unrecognized bat bite.

  • On January 5, 1997, a 65 year old man died from a strain of rabies associated with silver haired bats. The man had been retired for several years and performed odd jobs around the area where he lived. His main hobbies included hunting and trapping. His family could not recall any history of contact with ill animals during these activities. They did recall a bat had entered his home through his bedroom window in late summer 1996. On subsequent days the bat was observed roosting during the daytime and flying around the house at dusk, the man eventually forced the bat out of the house with a broom. His wife denied any known contact with the bat and did not recall her husband having reported direct contact with the animal at any time. The bat had been removed from the house approximately 4 months before the onset of the patient's illness.

  • These are only a portion of the cases involving bats with no confirmed exposure. Extreme caution and care should be used anytime there is a question of exposure regarding a bat. Remember, rabies is a DEADLY virus and should be treated as such! If you contract rabies and do not seek treatment, YOU WILL DIE!

RABIES IS MOST OFTEN CARRIED BY WILD ANIMALS

The following is a list of animals commonly infected with rabies:

  • Raccoons

  • Skunks

  • Coyotes

  • Foxes

  • Bats

  • Stray cats, dogs, ferrets and other wildlife can be a problem as well.

YOU CAN PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY FROM RABIES BY OBSERVING THE FOLLOWING GUIDELINES:

  • Avoid all contact with wild animals.
  • Do not approach stray animals.
  • Critter-proof your home so wild animals will not be tempted to use your home as their own.
  • Properly seal containers that may be stored outdoors holding pet food or garbage.

PETS NEED PROTECTION FROM RABIES TOO

  • Vaccinate all pets in your household against rabies.
  • Keep all pets confined to your property.
  • Do not feed your pets outdoors

IF YOUR PET IS ATTACKED OR BITTEN:

Contact Polk County Animal Control and your family Veterinarian immediately!

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF RABIES?

DUMB RABIES: Animals are shy and may hide or may be unusually friendly. They may also become lethargic and confused.  This form is often seen in wildlife species.

FURIOUS RABIES: Animals are very agitated but may also act confused or calm at times. May attack when approached. They lose fear of enemies.

Each form of rabies ends in paralysis and death. There may be other signs as well:

  • The animal may be roaming during the day when it is normally active at night.
  • The animal may make unusual noises.
  • The animal may stagger, become weak or paralyzed.
  • The animal may drool.
  • The animal may be unable to eat or drink.
  • The animal may appear to be perfectly healthy and be harboring the disease, for this reason you should never approach or touch any stray animal or wildlife.

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS EXPOSED, FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Thoroughly wash the wound and the surrounding area.
  2. If you are bitten by a wild animal confine, it only if it is safe to do so. Call Polk County Animal Control at once to report the bite! Do not injure the animals head as the brain tissue may be needed for testing.
  3. If you are bitten by a pet, request the owner's name and address as well as proof of rabies vaccination.
  4. Call your doctor immediately, under some circumstances you may need to undergo rabies shots. This process involves fewer shots and little discomfort compared to the shots 30 years ago.

RABIES AND BITE STATISTICS FOR POLK COUNTY

Total number of bite cases for fiscal year 2003 - 2004......................................2088

Total number of animals testing positive for rabies for fiscal year 2003 - 2004.............13

Florida Administrative Code, Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, Chapter 64D-3 Rabies, Communicable Disease Control General.

(a) Reporting of Suspected Human Exposure to Rabies --Any person having knowledge of an incident in which a person is bitten by or otherwise exposed to a dog or cat or by any known or suspected rabid animal is requested to report the incident to the County Health Director. (b) Observation and Examination of animals --

I. The County Health Unit Director shall take action to have each reported animal bite or exposure investigated promptly to determine whether there is cause to believe the animal in question has rabies.

2. Any dog or cat that bites or otherwise exposes a human shall be captured alive if possible and quarantined under observation for a period of 10 days. If confinement or capture of the animal is not possible and practical, the animal shall be destroyed as humanely as possible and the head submitted to one of the Health Department's laboratories for examination for rabies. If the animal cannot be located, the person bitten or otherwise exposed shall be notified.