The Florida Department of Health in Pasco County is reminding residents to be mindful of wild and stray animals that can carry rabies.
Raccoons, bats, foxes and skunks commonly carry the rabies virus. An animal with rabies could infect other wild animals or domestic animals that have not been vaccinated against rabies.
“Rabies is present in Pasco’s wild animal population and contact should be avoided,” said county health officer Mike Napier, in a release. “The best way to prevent rabies in your pets is to make sure rabies vaccinations are up to date.”
The health department says it works closely with animal control and others to investigate locally reported animal bites. So far this year, they have investigated more than 300 animal bites, with 27 of those coming from wild animals, primarily raccoons. From those bites, 46 people have received rabies treatments, with 11 of those coming from a bite or scratch from a raccoon.
All domestic animals should be vaccinated against rabies, and all wildlife contact should be avoided, the health department said. That is especially true for raccoons, bats, foxes, skunks, otters, bobcats and coyotes.
Some prevention steps offered by the health department include:
• Keep rabies vaccinations up to date for all pets.
• If a pet is bitten by a wild animal or a feral cat, seek veterinary assistance for the animal immediately.
• Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild, feral or stray animals by leaving pet food outside, or garbage cans open.
• Never adopt wild animals or bring them into the home.
• Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals — wild or domestic — even if they appear friendly.
• Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools and other similar areas, where they might come into contact with people and pets.
• Anyone who is bitten by any animal should seek care promptly. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, and visit a family doctor or hospital for immediate medical attention.
Rabies is a disease of the nervous system, and is fatal to warm-blooded animals and humans. The only treatment for human exposure to rabies is rabies-specific immune globulin and rabies immunization. Appropriate treatment started soon after the exposure will protect an exposed person from the disease.
To report animal bites or scratches, and for information on stray dogs and cats, call Pasco County Animal Services at (727) 834-3216, (813) 929-1212, or (352) 521-5194.
For more information, call the Florida Department of Health (352) 521-1450, ext. 344.
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