Rabies is a disease caused by a virus. The word "rabies" comes from a Latin word that means "to rage" because rabid animals sometimes act as if they are angry. Rabies attacks the brain and spinal cord, and leads to death if precautions are not taken to prevent contraction.
- Any mammal can get rabies. The most common are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, and coyotes. Domestic mammals can also get rabies. According to the Florida Department of Health, outside cats are by far the most common domestic animal found to have rabies in the State of Florida largely because they are not kept up-to-date on vaccinations. Although rare, humans can also get rabies from infected animals.
- An animal gets rabies from saliva, usually from a bite of an animal that has the disease. You cannot get rabies from blood.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of rabies-related human dealths in United States has declined from more than 100 annually at the turn of the century to one or two per year in the 1990's. Modern day vaccination efforts have proven nearly 100 percent successful.
- In the United States, human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they were unaware of their exposure. If you think you are infected, a doctor will assess the risk for rabies exposure. If necessary, a regimen of one dose of immune globulin and five doses of rabies vaccine over a 28-day period will be given. Current vaccines are relatively painless and are given in your arm, like a flu or tetanus vaccine.
Wildlife rabies vaccination effortIs there a rabies outbreak in Miami-Dade County?
No. Some wild animals do get infected by the rabies virus every year across the state. There were total of 11 rabies cases in Miami-Dade County in calendar year 2018. The cases were comprised of eight raccoons, two cats and one otter. This represents about 10 percent of all cases in Florida in 2018.
What is the Wildlife Rabies Vaccination Effort?
Starting in June 2019, County workers wearing "Wildlife Rabies Prevention" T-shirts will place edible vaccines around dumpsters, lakes and waterways in both rural and inhabited areas. The rabies vaccine bait packets resemble a common ketchup packet. They are coated with fishmeal that is appetizing to wildlife such as raccoons, foxes and coyotes. Wildlife puncture the package and consume the liquid vaccine. The plastic covering is not edible and unfortunately, is not biodegradable. Workers will place 150 units per square kilometer in undeveloped land, and 75 units per square kilometer in inhabited areas. The countywide effort will take place twice a year for the next three years, with the next distribution scheduled for December 2019. Watch the video to get more information about the wildlife vaccination effort.
Will County employees be going onto private property to place the vaccines?
No, they will not be placing the edible rabies vaccines on private property. However, some may be placed in common areas. For example, they will be placed around the lakes found in subdivisions.
What is the name of the vaccine and does it cure or prevent rabies?
The vaccine is called RABORAL V-RG®. The vaccine is safe and effective and is not dangerous for people or pets. The edible vaccine increases immunity against the virus in wildlife and is a preventative, rather than curative, measure.
Why is the County investing in these prevention efforts?
Infectious diseases like Zika and rabies can pose risks to public health and harm the economy in treatment costs and lost tourism revenue. Wildlife rabies vaccination efforts have shown significant success in controlling cases of raccoon rabies across the country. One example is New York’s oral vaccination program, which saved the state almost $27 million by helping Long Islanders avoid expensive rabies treatment and animal testing costs. Read more about New York's successful vaccination effort.
What happens if the vaccines are eaten by a child or pet?
The RABORAL V-RG® bait poses no danger to human or animal health. Since the vaccine units are manufactured to attract wild animals, they might also attract dogs and cats. According to the USDA, it has been demonstrated safe in more than 60 species of animals. Dogs that consume large numbers of baits may experience an upset stomach, but no long-term health risks. Call the County Health number at 305-324-2400 for any questions regarding human exposure.
If my pet eats an edible vaccine, is it considered to be a vaccination?
No. Domestic pets will still need vaccinations from their veterinarian.
What do I do if I find a vaccine?
If a vaccine packet is found, it is best to leave the bait where you found it. If you need to move a consumed or intact vaccine packet, wear a glove or use other protective covering (i.e., paper, plastic bag), and dispose of it with your regular trash. Alternatively, you can move uneaten vaccines to a wooded area where wildlife will be more likely to find them. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after any contact with a vaccine packet.
Additional articles and resources
USDA Begins 2018 Oral Rabies Vaccine Efforts in Eastern United States
Oral Rabies Vaccine (ORV) Program
Should I be afraid of raccoons and other wildlife?In Florida, the most common cases of rabies are found in raccoons although foxes, coyotes and bats are also occassional carriers in the U.S. Raccoons and other wild animals usually keep to themselves if not bothered or enticed by food or trash left outside. Not all raccoons have rabies. Rabid raccoons are identifiable by having trouble walking, making repeated high-pitch noises and ignoring noises that would usually would cause them to walk away. While it is best to be careful and cautious, modern day actions taken to prevent rabies - like vaccination efforts - have proven nearly 100 percent successful according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Reporting animal bites
If you or someone else suffered a bite from a dog or cat, please report it by completing the Animal Bite Report. You will be asked to leave your name and phone number so that Animal Services can be dispatched to investigate.
All animal bite cases should be referred to the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County at 305-324-2400.
Preventing rabiesThe best way to prevent rabies is to be a responsible pet owner:
- Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs and cats. This also provides a barrier of protection to you, if your animal is bitten by a rabid animal.
- Make sure your pet gets and wears their rabies vaccination tags. They should also wear a tag with their name and your address and phone number. Microchip your pet to insure his/her records can be found.
- Keep your pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with strays or wild animals. Keep them in a fenced yard or on a leash. If your pet is bitten by a stray or wild animal, seek veterinary assistance for your pet immediately.
- Call Miami-Dade Animal Services at 311 to report any stray dogs from your neighborhood. Strays may not be vaccinated and could be infected by the disease.
- Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or regularly vaccinated. Pets that are fixed are less likely to leave home.
- Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open trash cans or litter. Do not feed your pet outside or leave pet food outside.
- Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse wild animals back to health. Call Animal Services or an animal rescue agency for assistance.
- Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly.
Rabies symptoms in animals
Animals with rabies may act differently from healthy animals. A pet that is usually friendly may snap at you or may try to bite. Animals in the early stage of rabies may not have any signs, although they can still infect you if they bite you. The incubation period is the time from the animal bite to when signs appear. For rabies, the period is usually one to three months, but it can last as long as several years. Once the virus reaches the brain or spinal cord, signs of the disease will appear. Some signs of rabies in animals are:
- Changes in an animal’s behavior. Wild animals may move slowly or may act as if they are tame.
- General sickness
- Problems swallowing
- Increased drooling or saliva
- Aggression – may bite at everything if excited
- Wild animals that appear abnormally tame or sick
- Difficulty moving or paralysis
- Fear of Water
Rabies symptoms in humansIn humans, signs and symptoms usually occur 30-90 days after the bite. Once people develop symptoms, they almost always die. Early symptoms of rabies in humans are nonspecific, consisting of:
As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include:
- General malaise
- Slight or partial paralysis
Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms. This is why medical assistance should be obtained as soon as possible after you have been bitten. If you are bitten by an animal that could have rabies, clean the bite wound with soap and water for at least 5 minutes and seek medical attention immediately.
What will happen to the dog or cat that bit me?
- If the cat or dog appeared healthy at the time you were bitten, it can be confined by its owner for 10-days and observed. Anti-rabies shots will probably not be needed.
- If the dog or cat does not have an owner, it will be quarantined at the shelter for up to a 10-day period.
- You should seek medical advice about the need for anti-rabies shots.
- If a dog or cat, appeared ill at the time it bit you or becomes ill during the 10 day quarantine, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian for signs of rabies and you should seek medical advice about the need for anti-rabies shots.
- No person in the United States has ever contracted rabies from a dog or cat held under quarantine for 10 days. The quarantine period is a precaution against the remote possibility that an animal may appear healthy, but actually be sick with rabies.