JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It's not just an animal bite that can expose you to rabies.
Just a drop of spit from a rabid raccoon can cause rabies, according to Hilton Manuel, environmental specialist 3 with the Duval County Health Department.
The good news is that no one in the state of Florida has died of rabies since the 1950s. And, in that case, says Manuel, the man exposed refused treatment.
Manuel said raccoons are the no. 1 threat of spreading rabies in Duval County. Other high-risk animals are foxes, bats, cats and skunks.
A bite, scratch or contact with saliva from a high risk animal can cause rabies. A series of at least seven shots is used to treat high risk exposure. They are not given in the stomach, as many people fear, but in the area of the wound, or the rump or arm.
Manuel said people expose themselves just trying to do something good. For example, he said, if a rabid raccoon attacks a dog or cat, its owner might try to save the pet and, in the process, get spit from the raccoon on them.
If the raccoon spit enters the body, the person is at risk. On the reassuring side, though, Manuel said the series of rabies shots are more than 90 percent effective.
Right now, the Duval County Health Department has two rabies alert areas due to rabid cats.
MORE: Duval County Health Department website.
Manuel said out of all East Coast states, Florida has the most raccoons. He said about 1 in 3 raccoons on the East Coast live in Florida.
If a high-risk animal has rabies, it has to be put down to be tested. However, Manuel explained, a dog or other pet can be quarantied and observed, rather than put to sleep.
Some tips from the St. Johns County Health Department:
To protect yourself, your family and your pets from rabies:
- Vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses against rabies.
- Avoid contact with wild or stray animals.
- Never feed wild or stray animals.
- Do not allow your pets to run free.
- Do not encourage colonies of stray cats, as they may carry rabies and expose you and your loved ones.
If you are bitten, or scratched by an animal, you should:
- Immediately scrub the wound with soap and water for 5 - 10 minutes
- Get a complete description of the animal and its location
- Go to the nearest emergency room or your health care provider.
- Call the local animal control office with the animal's description and location.
- If the animal dies, don't damage the head, and avoid further contact with the animal even when it is dead.
- If you are bitten by a high risk animal and the animal is not found, or if it is confirmed to be rabid, you will receive a series of shots over a 28-day period to prevent you from getting rabies.
According to the SJHD, rabies attacks the brain of warm-blooded animals, including people. Animals with rabies carry the virus in its saliva and can be passed to another animal or a person, usually through a bite.
Animals with rabies may be aggressive, attacking for no apparent reason.
Wild animals may act tame or unafraid of humans. They may not be able to eat, drink or swallow, and may drool. Infected animals may stagger or become paralyzed.
First Coast News