Rabies Alert in Walton County Raises the Importance of Animal Safety

Our Panama City animal bite lawyer is urging residents to take particular caution in light of a rabies alert in our region. According to WMBB and ABC 13, the recent alert stems from a reported fox attack on August 16, 2012. Administrator for Walton County Health Department Holly Holt issued the alert, which focuses on the southern part of Walton County and will remain in effect for 60 days.

While this alert does focus on one portion of our area, it does not mean that other areas are exempt from danger. Notably, the same news outlet reported last month that a raccoon found in Callaway also tested positive for the virus. That animal, found near the intersection of Betty Louise Drive and Old Bicycle Road, was the fifth raccoon to test positive in Bay County in 2012.

Rabies is a nervous system disease that can be fatal to humans and other warm-blooded animals. Humans can be treated, but it is vital to identify the potential exposure and begin treatment soon after the contact. If you are bitten or scratched by an unknown animal, you should immediately clean the wound, seek medical treatment, and inform the local health department of the incident. When a wild animal is involved, you should also contact animal control for help.

It is crucial to avoid all contact with wild animals, especially when rabies is known to be present in the region. Parents should take particular care to teach children that they should never handle any unfamiliar animal, whether wild or domestic. It is not safe to adopt or otherwise care for wild animals, even if the animal is young or appears friendly. In the case of raccoons, it is actually illegal to feed the animals either directly or indirectly because it can artificially increase the population and raises the risk of spreading rabies and other diseases. Keeping garbage secure can also help.

Pet owners should take particular care since rabies can spread from wild animals to domestic ones, which may then pass the infection on to humans. Owners should keep pets under close supervision to avoid a bite. Keeping pet food outside overnight can also attract wild animals and raise the danger of a conflict between a wild animal and a domestic pet. Florida law requires that all dogs and cats over four months in age be vaccinated. The vaccination must be kept up to date by a veterinarian, so vaccines bought at feed stores and administered at home do not meet the legal requirement. If you believe your pet has been bitten by a wild animal, you should contact your vet and the health department or animal control as soon as possible.

Rabies is dangerous, but the spread can be limited by taking proper precautions. Pet owners should remember that they are responsible if their animal bites someone, whether or not the animal has shown prior signs of violence. This is a matter of public safety, especially with the added concern of rabies in our region.

We also offer a free consultation to anyone who has been injured by an animal bite in Panama City. We can help you understand your legal rights.

For more information on the danger of rabies, see the Florida Department of Health's information page and our prior blog post on a rabies alert earlier this year in Bay County.

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