Most people in the United States don’t really give rabies a second thought. That wasn’t the case prior to early twentieth century when human rabies was still a constant concern and early “animal control” programs were created for the sole purpose of controlling stray dogs that were quite often rabid. Even today, worldwide, thousands of people die from rabies every single year.

And did you know that Florida is a rabies endemic state? That means rabies is present in our wildlife population all the time. Rabies is literally all around us. In the past sixteen months in Florida, we have had two people die from rabies. The first person was a woman who lived in Highlands County and was bitten by a bat. She did not seek medical attention and ultimately died from rabies. The second case involved a six year old boy who was hospitalized in Orange County after showing symptoms of illness. It was determined he too had contracted rabies from a bat. The parents did not seek medical intervention in spite of the fact they knew the boy had been exposed to the bat until the child became ill, which was too late.

In Osceola County, we had a rabid cat in the Kenansville area just a few weeks ago and today we were notified that a coyote we picked up from Sun Key Place, Kissimmee, and submitted for testing was positive for rabies as well. The coyote attacked two people and others had incidental exposure to this animal. As a result of these two incidents, several people have had or are currently undergoing rabies post exposure treatment which consists of a series of vaccines.

So what has changed in the U.S. in the past century to reduce the incidence of rabies so dramatically? One of the most helpful things we have available to us is a highly effective rabies vaccine for our pets. It is the use of this vaccine in the domestic animal population that has been essential to the reduction of rabies in domestic animals and people.  In short, keeping your pet currently vaccinated against rabies helps  keep pets safe as well as the human family members who care for them. A pet that is not currently vaccinated against rabies is at much higher risk of contracting the disease if exposed. This also puts the human population at risk.

Rabies vaccination isn’t just to keep your pet safe. It keeps you, your family, your friends, and the community safe. Please keep pets rabies vaccinated!

Other tips on rabies prevention include:

  1. Don’t leave pet food or garbage out over night.

  2. Teach children to enjoy wildlife from a safe distance.

  3. Do not keep wildlife as pets.

  4. Do not handle wildlife, dead or alive.

  5. Report bites or scratches to your local Health Department or Animal Service organization. Osceola County Animal Services, 407-742-8000, 3910 Old Canoe Creek Rd., St. Cloud, FL. Seek medical attention without delay!

  6. Keep pets inside to minimize or prevent interaction with wildlife.

  7. Talk with your veterinarian about vaccines for horses and other livestock.

  8. If you see sick or strange acting animals, domestic or wild, please call the number above and request an Animal Services Officer. Be sure to advise there is a sick animal.

For more information on rabies, please visit the following sites:

https://search.cdc.gov/search/?query=rabies

http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/rabies/_documents/rabiesguide2014final2.pdf