Walton County Health Department urges residents to avoid contact with wild and stray animals

May 22, 2012

Raccoons are the #1 carrier of rabies in Florida. Photo courtesy FWC.

Rabies is preventable, but not curable

Walton County health officials urge residents to avoid contact with wild and stray animals to protect themselves from the risk of rabies exposure.  In Florida, raccoons, bats foxes and unvaccinated cats are the animals most frequently diagnosed with rabies.  Other animals that are at high risk for rabies include skunks, otters, coyotes, bobcats, and stray or unvaccinated dogs and ferrets.

“Rabies is a potentially fatal disease that can be prevented but not cured.  It is important not to handle wild animals, to be aware of unusual acting animals, and vaccinate pets against rabies,” said Holly Holt, Walton County Health Department Administrator.  Rabies is spread through saliva and can be passed from one animal to another animal or person, usually through a bite.  Infection may also occur if the saliva enters open wounds, the mouth, or eyes of another animal or person.

Walton County Health Department works with Walton County Animal Control in responding to incidents of animal bites, tests animals for rabies through the Department of Health state laboratory, and quarantines animals as necessary.  Walton County Health Department also provides rabies vaccinations to victims of animal bites; these vaccinations are the only known effective treatment for rabies prevention in humans.

The following are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones against rabies:
• Keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all pets.
• Keep your pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with wild animals.  If your pet is bitten by a wild animal, seek veterinary assistance for the animal immediately and contact Walton County Animal Control at (850) 892-8682 or Walton County Health Department at (850) 892-8021.
• Call your local animal control agency to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood.
• Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or regularly vaccinated.
• Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter.
• Never adopt wild animals or bring them into you 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 in contact with people and pets.

Unusual acting animals should be reported to Walton County Animal Control at (850) 892-8682.  Anyone who is bitten or scratched by wild or stray animals should report the incident to their doctor immediately, as well as Walton County Health Department at (850) 892-8021 or Walton County Animal Control at (850) 892-8682.

For further information on rabies, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/rabies; the Florida Department of Health website at http://www.doh.state.fl.us/environment/medicine/rabies/rabies-index.html or contact Walton County Health Department, Environmental Health at (850) 892-8021.