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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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
In 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:
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.
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.
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 ASD 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.
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